While some lawmakers are trying to make a push to renew the National Security Agency (NSA) surveillance program, a group of at least 10 senators are introducing legislation that would restrict the NSA’s warrantless internet surveillance program and further protect citizens’ privacy.
Spearheaded by Democrat Ron Wyden and Republican Rand Paul, the legislation would require that officials obtain a warrant to make a query of a citizen’s private data. Officials would also have to alert the individual that the agency will be using their data in a case against them.
“Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Ore., Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., and Rep. Jared Polis, D-Colo., and Rep. Blake Farenthold, R-Texas, today introduced the Protecting Data at the Border Act to ensure Americans are not forced to endure indiscriminate and suspicionless searches of their phones, laptops and other digital devices just to cross the border,” wrote the senators in a press release in April. “The bipartisan, bicameral bill shuts down a legal Bermuda Triangle that currently allows law enforcement agencies to search Americans’ phones and laptops – including pictures, email, and anything on the device and possibly the cloud – when they cross the border without suspicion or a warrant.”
However, other lawmakers disagree on this issue. Attorney General Jeff Sessions, FBI Director Christopher Wray, National Intelligence director Dan Coats and National Security Agency director Mike Rogers believe that the current NSA surveillance program, that is set to expire at the end of 2017, needs to be extended.
“The program is designed to target foreign individuals, but a series of leaks pertaining to Trump associates conversations with Russian officials have shaken some of the traditional support for the law. Reports that former Obama administration officials had “unmasked” the names of Americans who appeared in the course of foreign surveillance has stoked concern that the program infringes upon privacy rights,” writes The Washington Examiner.
But Wyden, Paul and 8 other senators believe it invades the public’s privacy. A companion bill has also been introduced in the house.
Specifically, the senators argue that the surveillance program, known as the Section 702 of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, needs this change to uphold the standard of “innocent until proven guilty.”
“Congress must not continue to allow our constitutional standard of ‘innocent until proven guilty’ to be twisted into ‘If you have nothing to hide, you have nothing to fear,’” said Paul. “The American people deserve better from their own government than to have their Internet activity swept up in warrantless, unlimited searches that ignore the Fourth Amendment.”
“Without common-sense protections for Americans’ liberties, this vast surveillance authority is nothing less than an end-run around the Constitution,” said Wyden.
Groups like the American Civil Liberties Union and FreedomWorks will likely be ins support of the measure.
The legislation with the additional restrictions would only renew the Section 702 for fours year. At the time, lawmakers would reevaluate the program.
Earlier this month Congressman Bob Goodlatte, chairman of the House Judiciary Committee drafted a reform to the NSA’s warrantless surveillance program, but it’s facing a tremendous amount of opposition. Advocates of privacy have said it is too narrow.
The current surveillance program has allowed officials to take advantage of citizens in the past.
“Suhaib Allababidi, a U.S. citizen who lives in Texas and a plaintiff in the case, said in an interview that he was stopped by Customs and Border Patrol on Jan. 21 at the Dallas airport after returning from a business trip to Dubai. Allababidi said he declined to unlock his personal phone for the officers after allowing them to search his separate business phone,” writes Yahoo News. “The officers confiscated both his phones, Allababidi said, and returned his business phone to him two months later. The government has still not returned his personal phone after more than seven months, he said.”
Authorities were able to do this due to a so-called border search exception, where they can legally conduct searches and confiscations of devices within 100 miles of a U.S. border without obtaining a warrant.
Author’s note: Finally, some lawmakers are making a push to protect our privacy. We employ and pay the taxes to support the work of these government officials. Their job is not to spy on its citizens, instead it’s to protect us and our rights. This is a step in the right direction, but we also need some legislation against private companies from obtaining so much of our personal data.
Editor’s note: As a former intelligence officer I spied on many people. I don’t want those techniques turned inward on America. I hope this is not too late.