Bipartisan representatives demand answers on expired surveillance programs
Reps. Pramila Jayapal (D-Wash.) and Warren Davidson (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 Barr and Director of National Intelligence John Ratcliffe 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.
“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 Burr (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.
House leadership ultimately sent the bill to committee in May after President Trump 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 Leahy (D-Vt.) and Mike Lee (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.”
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