Newly Introduced Surveillance Act Fails to Fully Protect American Citizens

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POGO Has Concerns with Three Key Provisions

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Today, House Judiciary Committee Chairman Bob Goodlatte (R-VA) and Ranking Member John Conyers, Jr. (D-MI), along with Reps. Jim Sensenbrenner (R-WI) and Sheila Jackson Lee (D-TX) are holding a press conference to reveal their legislation, the USA Liberty Act, reauthorizing the programs in Section 702 of the 1978 Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA).

Section 702 contains those programs used to monitor the communications of non-U.S. persons outside of the United States, but those programs have often come under intense scrutiny because of the potential to abuse these programs and violate American citizens civil liberties. The programs are set to expire on December 31, 2017.

The Project On Government Oversight has pushed for reforms to be made to FISA that adequately protect American citizens’ civil liberties while keeping the country safe from harm. This piece of legislation fails to accomplish either of these goals and we are specifically concerned with three areas of the newly unveiled legislation.

Below are Danielle Brian’s statements on each of the provisions.

Whistleblower Protections for Intelligence Community Contractors

“We applaud the sponsors of the legislation for extending whistleblower protections against retaliation to Intelligence Community contractors, but the language doesn’t go far enough in ensuring those who blow the whistle to expose fraud, waste, abuse, and illegality actually remain free from retaliation by their supervisors.

As written, the bill lacks teeth to enforce the provisions against retaliation for blowing the whistle, and we call on the sponsors to add stronger enforcement mechanisms to this bill for both contractors and federal employees through the committee process before sending it to the Floor for a vote. Until these employees feel comfortable blowing the whistle because they know they will be protected from retaliation, Congress is creating an incentive to go outside of proper reporting channels.”

Exemptions for Privacy and Civil Liberties Oversight Board (PCLOB)

“This draft bill purports to exempt the essential oversight board from the Government in the Sunshine Act, and exemption that would allow the members of the board to meet in secret to discuss issues under its purview.

We are sympathetic to the argument that open-meeting laws may complicate the ability of the board to complete its mission, but a full exemption from transparency laws is not the responsible way to address this problem. We urge the committee to work with civil society to find a common ground that promotes adequate transparency without hindering the work of this oversight board.

Surveillance Program Still Puts Americans’ Civil Liberties at Risk

“While this draft bill attempts to provide a fix for the backdoor search loophole, it does not go far enough to ensure Americans’ civil liberties are protected. By allowing an exception for foreign intelligence searches with an overly broad definition of such searches, Americans may still find their Fourth Amendment rights violated.

We applaud the inclusion of reporting to Congress of an estimate of the number of Americans’ communications that have been subject to “incidental” collection under section 702, but we encourage the committee to make this report available to the public. We also encourage the committee to consider further provisions to increase public oversight over these programs.”

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Founded in 1981, the Project On Government Oversight (POGO) is a nonpartisan independent watchdog that champions good government reforms. POGO’s investigations into corruption, misconduct, and conflicts of interest achieve a more effective, accountable, open, and ethical federal government.

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