OTI Urges House Judiciary Committee to Strengthen USA Liberty Act’s Reforms in Markup

Today, the House Judiciary Committee will debate the USA Liberty Act (H.R. 3989), its bill to reauthorize and reform Section 702 of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act. Section 702, which expires at the end of the year, authorizes the government to target foreigners located abroad for surveillance to collect foreign intelligence information. Substantial quantities of Americans’ communications are “incidentally” collected as a result of that surveillance when those Americans are in contact with foreign targets.

While the USA Liberty Act is a good start, New America’s Open Technology Institute (OTI) has urged the committee to make improvements to strengthen the reforms in the bill at today’s markup. Chief among them is the need to expand and strengthen the requirement that the government obtain a warrant before searching for Americans’ communications in databases containing Section 702 information. OTI supports the amendment that Representatives Ted Poe (R, TX-2) and Zoe Lofgren (D, CA-19) will introduce at today’s markup that would provide protections for access to metadata and impose a warrant requirement for access to communications contents, irrespective of the agency conducting the search or of the purpose for the search.

The following statement can be attributed to Robyn Greene, policy counsel and government affairs lead at New America’s Open Technology Institute:

“This bill includes a number of important reforms, but it only partially addresses one issue we’ve been talking about for years: closing the backdoor search loophole. In today’s markup, the committee should beef up its warrant requirement so that it applies to all agencies and all searches through Section 702 data. The committee should pass the Poe-Lofgren amendment, which would ensure that there are no exceptions that could swallow the rule.”

In addition to the USA Liberty Act in the House, there are two bills that have been introduced in the Senate that would also reauthorize and amend Section 702: the USA Rights Act (S. 1997), which OTI supports, and the FISA Amendments Reauthorization Act of 2017 (S. 2010), which OTI strongly opposes. A chart comparing these three bills against OTI’s reform priorities is available here.