Progressives urge end to mass phone data collection program

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 NadlerTrump officials weigh adding more countries to travel ban list: report House approves Trump impeachment procedures House panel advances resolution outlining impeachment inquiry MORE (D-N.Y.) and ranking member Rep. Doug CollinsDouglas (Doug) Allen CollinsHillicon 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 Progressives urge end to mass phone data collection program Democrats, GOP dig in for public phase of impeachment battle 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 BlumenauerHillicon 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 Progressives urge end to mass phone data collection program Bill introduced to give special immigrant visas to Kurds who helped US in Syria MORE (D-Ore.), wrote. “We will oppose a bill that does not do so.” 

The letter includes Reps. Alexandria Ocasio-CortezAlexandria Ocasio-CortezSanders, Ocasio-Cortez to hold climate summit in Iowa 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 Progressives urge end to mass phone data collection program MORE (D-N.Y.), Mark TakanoMark Allan TakanoOvernight Defense — Presented by Huntington Ingalls Industries — Impeachment inquiry overshadows Trump at UN | Veterans push VA to follow through on reforms | Iranian leader open to changes in nuke deal Veterans groups push VA to follow through on reforms Democrat Raul Ruiz challenged by Republican with the same name in California race MORE (D-Calif.), Ilhan OmarIlhan OmarHillicon 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 Progressives urge end to mass phone data collection program Trump Jr., Guilfoyle dress as ‘Witch Hunt’ for Halloween 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, is often referred to as Section 215.

“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. 

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