Progressives urge end to mass phone data collection program

Progressives urge end to mass phone data collection program
© iStock

A group of 20 Democratic lawmakers on Thursday called for an end to the government's mass phone data collection, staking out their position in an upcoming fight around the bill that could reauthorize the controversial program.

In a letter to House Judiciary Committee Chairman Jerrold NadlerJerrold (Jerry) Lewis NadlerMcConnell locks in schedule for start of impeachment trial Pelosi: Trump's impeachment 'cannot be erased' House to vote Wednesday on sending articles of impeachment to Senate MORE (D-N.Y.) and ranking member Rep. Doug CollinsDouglas (Doug) Allen CollinsThe five dumbest things said about impeachment so far Pelosi accepts Collins's apology for saying Democrats are 'in love with terrorists' Trump's legal team gets set for impeachment trial MORE (R-Ga.), the progressive lawmakers argued they will not support any legislation without significant reforms and protections for vulnerable populations.


They called for a total repeal of the National Security Agency's (NSA) call records program, which gathers information on incoming and outgoing domestic text messages and phone calls, and increased civil liberties protections around other elements of the law, which is set to expire later this year.  

"Any meaningful reform must repeal the [call detail records] program, which is an unnecessary violation of the rights of people in the United States and a threat to our democracy," the lawmakers, led by Reps. Rashida Talib (D-Mich.) and Earl BlumenauerEarl BlumenauerLobbying world Hillicon Valley: Progressives oppose funding bill over surveillance authority | Senators call for 5G security coordinator | Facebook gets questions over location tracking | Louisiana hit by ransomware attack Progressives oppose spending stopgap measure over surveillance authority extension MORE (D-Ore.), wrote. "We will oppose a bill that does not do so." 

The letter includes Reps. Alexandria Ocasio-CortezAlexandria Ocasio-CortezAyanna Pressley's 'squad' of congresswomen offers support after she opens up about alopecia Here are the 10 senators who voted against Trump's North American trade deal Artist paints Michelle Obama, other women as battered in campaign against domestic violence MORE (D-N.Y.), Mark TakanoMark Allan TakanoGOP claims vindication, but Van Drew decision doesn't spark defections Mark Takano keeps using partisan tactics when legislating veterans issues Hillicon Valley: Google buying Fitbit for .1B | US launches national security review of TikTok | Twitter shakes up fight over political ads | Dems push committee on 'revenge porn' law MORE (D-Calif.), Ilhan OmarIlhan OmarAyanna Pressley's 'squad' of congresswomen offers support after she opens up about alopecia With surge in anti-Semitism, political leaders need to be aggressive and reflective in response Congressional Progressive Caucus co-chair endorses Sanders MORE (D-Minn.) and other progressives across a range of committees. 

The call records program, which was originally disclosed by whistleblower Edward Snowden in 2013, was originally authorized by under Section 215 of the Patriot Act.

"As the committee holds hearings and drafts legislation regarding Section 215, we urge you to include the reforms ... and to consider additional ways to rein in government surveillance," they wrote. 

The USA Freedom Act, a pared-down version of the 2001 Patriot Act, is up for reauthorization at the end of this year. Civil liberties activists have been fighting for Congress to let the Section 215 authorities to expire. 

The letter released Friday echoes long-standing calls from those activists, who have argued that elements of the USA Freedom Act — which enables the call detail records program — should not be reauthorized, including the Section 215 authorities. They say the program has not effectively stopped any terrorist attacks and encroaches on the personal lives of Americans.

Section 215 also enables the government to collect business records without a warrant and surveil targets across multiple cell phone or communications devices during terrorism investigations. 

The lawmakers called for any legislation to draw safeguards and slim down those provisions. They want a "reform bill" to explicitly prevent the government from tracking sensitive location information without warrants, as well as require audits into whether minority communities are facing the disproportionate brunt of the surveillance. 

"We all swore to support and defend the Constitution, and we must defend our constituents against mass surveillance, which has the power to destroy our democracy," the lawmakers wrote.

It's unclear so far where Nadler, the top Democrat on the key House panel, will come down on the issue of repealing the call detail records program and reforming other elements of the law. He has publicly signaled skepticism particularly around the mass collection of phone data, a program that the Trump administration confirmed has shuttered in the past year amid significant technical difficulties.

Collins, the panel's top Republican, has acknowledged that the call records program "has seen significant and seemingly insurmountable technical problems in its implementation," though he supports keeping the rest of the law intact. 

In August, the Trump administration urged Congress to reauthorize the program