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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 JayapalOcasio-Cortez, progressives call on Senate not to confirm lobbyists or executives to future administration posts Pocan won't seek another term as Progressive Caucus co-chair Poll shows Biden leading Trump, tight House race in key Nebraska district MORE (D-Wash.) and Warren DavidsonWarren Earl DavidsonHillicon Valley: House votes to condemn QAnon | Americans worried about foreign election interference | DHS confirms request to tap protester phones House approves measure condemning QAnon, but 17 Republicans vote against it Hillicon Valley: Subpoenas for Facebook, Google and Twitter on the cards | Wray rebuffs mail-in voting conspiracies | Reps. raise mass surveillance concerns 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 BarrTrump hasn't asked Barr to open investigation into Bidens, McEnany says Seattle, Portland, NYC sue Trump administration over threat to pull federal money Trump says he doesn't actually want Whitmer, Biden and Obama to be locked up despite chants MORE and Director of National Intelligence John RatcliffeJohn Lee RatcliffeHillicon Valley: Treasury sanctions Russian group accused of targeting critical facilities | Appeals court rules Uber, Lyft must comply with labor laws | Biden: Countries that target US elections will 'pay a price' Treasury sanctions Russian group accused of targeting US critical facilities with destructive malware Biden: Countries that interfere in US elections will 'pay a price' 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 BurrAs Trump downplayed the virus publicly, memo based on private briefings sparked stock sell-offs: NYT Hillicon Valley: Subpoenas for Facebook, Google and Twitter on the cards | Wray rebuffs mail-in voting conspiracies | Reps. raise mass surveillance concerns Bipartisan representatives demand answers on expired surveillance programs 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 John TrumpIvanka Trump, Jared Kusher's lawyer threatens to sue Lincoln Project over Times Square billboards Facebook, Twitter CEOs to testify before Senate Judiciary Committee on Nov. 17 Sanders hits back at Trump's attack on 'socialized medicine' 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 LeahySchumer says he had 'serious talk' with Feinstein, declines to comment on Judiciary role Durbin says he will run for No. 2 spot if Dems win Senate majority Democrats seem unlikely to move against Feinstein MORE (D-Vt.) and Mike LeeMichael (Mike) Shumway LeeEnd the American military presence in Somalia Ted Cruz won't wear mask to speak to reporters at Capitol Michigan Republican isolating after positive coronavirus test 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.”