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Bipartisan representatives demand answers on expired surveillance programs

Bipartisan representatives demand answers on expired surveillance programs
© Keren Carrion

Reps. Pramila JayapalPramila JayapalNurses union lobbies Congress on health care bills during National Nurses Week White House raises refugee cap to 62,500 The Hill's Morning Report - Biden launches blitz for jobs plan with 'thank you, Georgia' MORE (D-Wash.) and Warren DavidsonWarren Earl DavidsonBoehner finally calls it as he sees it The Hill's Morning Report - Biden: Back to the future on immigration, Afghanistan, Iran Ambitious House lawmakers look for promotions MORE (R-Ohio) on Thursday spearheaded a letter pressing the Trump administration to detail its current surveillance programs after the March expiration of the USA Freedom Act.

The letter to Attorney General William BarrBill BarrDemocrats, activists blast reported Trump DOJ effort to get journalists' phone records Trump admin got phone records of WaPo reporters covering Russia probe: report The Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Emergent BioSolutions - Facebook upholds Trump ban; GOP leaders back Stefanik to replace Cheney MORE and Director of National Intelligence John RatcliffeJohn Lee RatcliffeTrump alumni launch America First Policy Institute Sunday shows preview: Democrats eye two-part infrastructure push; Michigan coronavirus cases surge Former Trump officials eye bids for political office MORE raises concerns that the administration may be using an executive order to illegally engage in mass surveillance.

Executive Order 12333, issued in 1981, has been used before to conduct operations without statutory authorization or congressional oversight.

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“With the expiration of Section 215, we are concerned that the executive branch may, once again, be using questionable legal theories of executive authority to justify the illegal surveillance of the American people,” Jayapal and Davidson wrote in the letter, which was signed by another 37 other representatives.

The letter raises concerns about comments made by then-chairman of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence Sen. Richard BurrRichard Mauze BurrBattle lines drawn over Biden's support for vaccine waivers FDA unveils plan to ban menthol cigarettes, flavored cigars The Hill's Morning Report - Biden to country: 'Turning peril into possibility' MORE (R-N.C.) during debate over the reauthorization suggesting that EO 12333 could be used to conduct the same surveillance authorized by the USA Freedom Act.

A similar interpretation was used to justify Stellar Wind, the Bush administration’s illegal wiretapping of American citizens’ phone calls and emails.

“If what Burr said is true, it sounds like the government thinks most of Stellar Wind is still on the table,” Sean Vitka, senior policy counsel at the progressive group Demand Progress, told The Hill.

Reauthorization of the key FISA provisions outlined in Thursday’s letter under the USA Freedom Act has stalled.

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House leadership ultimately sent the bill to committee in May after President TrumpDonald TrumpDemocrats, activists blast reported Trump DOJ effort to get journalists' phone records Arizona secretary of state gets security detail over death threats surrounding election audit Trump admin got phone records of WaPo reporters covering Russia probe: report MORE came out against it and a key progressive amendment was pulled.

Thursday’s letter asks for documentation showing the administration issued guidance to ensure surveillance activities under USA Freedom were halted on March 15.

It also presses the administration on whether it treats domestic information and identifiers as presumptively foreign for Section 215 of the Patriot Act, which allows dragnet data collection to obtain foreign intelligence information.

The letter closely mirrors one sent to the administration by Sens. Patrick LeahyPatrick Joseph LeahySenate Democrats push Biden over raising refugee cap On The Money: Democratic scramble complicates Biden's human infrastructure plan | Progressives push on student debt relief No designated survivor chosen for Biden's joint address to Congress MORE (D-Vt.) and Mike LeeMichael (Mike) Shumway LeeRepublicans urge probe into Amazon government cloud-computing bid: report Allowing a racist slur against Tim Scott to trend confirms social media's activist bias Senate passes bipartisan B water infrastructure bill MORE (R-Utah). That letter has not received a response.

A spokesperson for Leahy told The Hill on Thursday that the Vermont lawmaker is glad to see that so many bipartisan House members are asking the same “important questions.”