USA Liberty Act Advances Through Congress

USA Liberty Act Strengthens America’s Star Chamber, the FISA Court

In the fine Orwellian Tradition of “The Patriot Act” and “The Affordable Care Act,” a new bill has come before congress with a title attached to it that will achieve the very opposite of what it purports to represent.  The name of the bill is the USA Liberty Act, and it aims to create more power, and build more loopholes for the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act.  We covered the initial entry of the bill here.

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More than 40 organizations, including the American Civil Liberties Union and the Freedom of the Press Foundation, have joined together to condemn the USA Liberty Act, a trendy name for a dangerous bill that reauthorizes and creates additional loopholes for Section 702 of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA).

In a letter to the House Judiciary Committee, the coalition noted that one of the most obvious problems with the USA Liberty Act is that it fails to address concerns with the “backdoor search loophole,” which allows the government to “conduct warrantless searches for the information of individuals who are not targets of Section 702, including U.S. citizens and residents.”

The USA Liberty Act departs from the recommendation made by the President’s Review Group on Surveillance, appropriations amendments that have previously passed the House, and urgings of civil society organizations, which would have required a probable cause warrant prior to searching the Section 702 database for information about a U.S. citizen or resident absent narrow exceptions. As written, it raises several concerns. First, the bill’s most glaring deficiency is that it does not require a warrant to access content in cases where the primary purpose is to return foreign intelligence. This is an exception that threatens to swallow the rule.

Not surprisingly, the USA Liberty Act claims that it will “better protect Americans’ privacy” by requiring the government to have “a legitimate national security purpose” before searching an individual’s database. Then when they do have that purpose established, they will be required to “obtain a court order based on probable cause to look at the content of communications, except when lives or safety are threatened, or a previous probable cause-based court order or warrant has been granted.”

However, as The Free Thought Project previously reported, what the USA Liberty Act does not advertise is the fact that the FBI’s “legitimate national security purpose” could be justified by just about any reason the agency chooses to give, and agents will only need supervisory authority in order to search Americans’ metadata.

As the coalition noted in its letter, “the bill’s current language leaves room for the government to conduct queries and access content for law enforcement purposes without a warrant,” which should be considered a direct violation of the Fourth Amendment.

The current language does not make clear that the government must have a warrant to access content for law enforcement searches where the purpose may not be to specifically obtain evidence of a crime, or in cases where there may be a dual foreign intelligence and criminal purpose. As such, the bill could still permit the government to conduct queries and access content without a warrant in cases involving criminal investigations and prosecutions.

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Paul Gordon is the publisher and editor of iState.TV. He has published and edited newspapers, poetry magazines and online weekly magazines.
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