By: David Keene and David Cole
In the next few days, Congress will vote on whether and how to renew a controversial part of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act that has resulted in the collection of thousands of Americans’ private communications — without probable cause or a warrant.
The members have two principal choices: to renew the law, known as Section 702, without protecting Americans’ privacy, or to do so only on condition that Americans’ privacy is protected. We are the past president of the NRA and the national legal director of the ACLU. We disagree about lots of things. But here we are in complete agreement: The law should not be renewed unless its abuses are reined in. Only one of these bills does that — the USA Rights Act.
We see eye to eye on this because history has shown that surveillance powers have been abused by Democratic and Republican administrations alike — and against right- and left-wing citizens.
President Lyndon Baines Johnson ordered FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover to bug his Republican rival Barry Goldwater’s campaign plane. President John F. Kennedy surveilled Martin Luther King, Jr. under the pretext of protecting “national security.” Broad and unchecked surveillance powers have been used as a tool against activists, government critics, journalists and minorities.
We don’t question the need for surveillance to protect against genuine terrorist threats. But when officials are given such sweeping powers, there is a real risk that even well-meaning officials will abuse that power under the pressures of their office. That is why the Constitution requires the government to honor the basic safeguards of the Fourth Amendment: a warrant and probable cause. These tools ensure that surveillance takes place against the right people for the right reasons.
Section 702 empowers the NSA to collect “electronic communications” as long as it is “targeting” a foreign national overseas. The NSA uses it to collect hundreds of millions of communications, on over 100,000 “targets,” every year. Targets need not be suspected of terrorism, but only of having information related to “foreign affairs.” And anytime a person in the United States is communicating with someone overseas, he runs the risk that his communications will be swept up, too.
As originally published by The Washington Times