USA Liberty Act Would Compromise Privacy

November 10, 2017

As Congress debates the “USA Liberty Act”, it is important to consider the implications for warrantless, back-door searches. The following information comes from the Brennan Center (https://www.brennancenter.org/blog/congress-cant-compromise-privacy); the entire article is worth reading to fully understand the importance of this issue and Section 702.

[T]he problem with the USA Liberty Act’s solution is not simply that it does not go far enough. In two key respects, it actually represents a step backward.

First, it would put Congress’s stamp of approval on backdoor searches. As it stands, Section 702 does not expressly authorize agencies to search for Americans’ communications. Indeed, the practice seems inconsistent with the law’s prohibition on targeting Americans, not to mention its requirement that the government minimize the retention and use of Americans’ communications. By codifying backdoor searches for foreign intelligence purposes, the USA Liberty Act would make the law worse, even if it improved on the government’s actual practice.

Even more worrisome, the USA Liberty approach would introduce a new and dangerous principle into the law: the notion that Americans have lesser rights when the government is acting with a “foreign intelligence” purpose. Currently, if the government wants to target an American directly for surveillance, it must obtain a warrant regardless of its motive. In criminal cases, the government typically obtains the warrant from a magistrate judge, while in foreign intelligence investigations, it applies to a special court known as the FISA Court. In both cases, however, the government must show probable cause of illicit activity.

There is no principled basis for lowering the standard of protection in foreign intelligence cases and allowing the government to access through the back door what it could not obtain through the front.

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