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Press Release

Experts Available: House Judiciary Committee Votes to Permit Warrantless Surveillance of Americans

The USA Liberty Act, which passed the U.S. House Judiciary Committee today, leaves in a place a loophole permitting warrantless surveillance of Americans’ communications.

November 8, 2017

Today, the U.S. House Judiciary Committee held a markup of the USA Liberty Act. The bill makes several changes to Section 702 of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, a law that, although nominally targeted at foreigners, in practice allows the government to collect large amounts of Americans’ electronic communications without securing a warrant.
The bill aims to strengthen protections for Americans’ privacy. However, many civil liberties groups, including the Brennan Center for Justice at NYU School of Law, have expressed concerns that the reforms don’t go far enough. The bill does not fully close the “backdoor search loophole”—the practice of government officials from multiple agencies sifting through Section 702 data to find the communications of specific Americans. Even though the bill requires FBI officials to obtain a warrant before accessing Americans’ communications in some cases, it contains exceptions for “foreign intelligence” and national security that are likely to swallow the rule, and it places no restrictions on searches by the NSA, the CIA, or the National Counterterrorism Center.
At markup, Reps. Ted Poe (R-Texas) and Zoe Lofgren (D-Calif.) offered an amendment, which the Brennan Center supports, to strengthen the bill’s “backdoor search” fix by requiring a warrant to access the content of Americans’ communications in all cases and by requiring a court order to access certain metadata. The amendment failed by a 12–21 vote after the bill’s sponsors warned supporters of the amendment that adopting it would doom the bill’s chances of getting a floor vote.
The bill passed the committee by a vote of 27–8.
“It’s deeply disappointing that 21 members of the House Judiciary Committee voted against closing the backdoor search loophole,” said Elizabeth Goitein, co-director of the Brennan Center’s Liberty & National Security Program. “Twenty of the 33 members have previously voted for such a measure, but many of them made a political calculation that including this change would prevent the bill from getting a floor vote. That was a mistake. The House Judiciary Committee should not be codifying broad warrantless surveillance of Americans’ communications, regardless of the political dynamics.”
Read more about the Brennan Center’s work on Section 702.
Read more about the Brennan Center’s work on Liberty & National Security.
For more information or to schedule an interview, contact Naren Daniel at (646) 292–8381 or