New House coalition fights rise in government surveillance
WASHINGTON — An unusual coalition of 13 Republicans and 12 Democrats on Wednesday announced the creation of the House Fourth Amendment Caucus to protect Americans' privacy rights against calls for increased government surveillance in the wake of terrorist attacks.
The group named itself after the Fourth Amendment because the lawmakers fear that the government is increasingly seeking the power to search Americans' electronic data without a warrant. They see that as a threat to the Constitutional amendment's protections against unreasonable searches and seizures.
"In the face of difficult circumstances, some are quick to pursue extreme, unconstitutional measures; the Fourth Amendment Caucus will be a moderating influence that gives voice to countless Americans whose rights are violated by these ill-conceived policies," said Rep. Justin Amash, R-Mich., who joined the group led by Reps. Zoe Lofgren, D-Calif., and Ted Poe, R-Texas.
Privacy rights are one of the rare issues that liberals and libertarian-leaning conservatives in Congress have agreed on. Members of the new coalition oppose legislation that would force U.S. tech companies to build "backdoors" into encrypted smartphones or allow federal agents to view someone's Internet browsing history without a warrant.
"Members of the House of Representatives from both parties are eager to debate and vote on privacy and surveillance issues that are far too often drafted in secret and jammed through the legislative process under tight deadlines, restrictive procedures, and little debate," Lofgren said.
Privacy rights advocates had been making gains in recent years. Their biggest victory came in 2015 with the passage of the USA Freedom Act, which ended the National Security Agency's controversial mass surveillance of the phone records of millions of Americans with no ties to terrorism.
But recent terrorist attacks in San Bernardino, Orlando and Europe have brought a renewed push in Congress to increase the surveillance powers of U.S. intelligence agencies.
In June, House privacy rights advocates tried to ban warrantless surveillance of Americans' electronic communications and prevent the government from forcing tech companies to build encryption backdoors. The measure failed even though it had been passed by the House twice before.
Later that month, the Senate fell just one vote short of passing legislation to allow the FBI to search Americans' Internet browsing histories and email records without a warrant.
“This bill is an affront to the Fourth Amendment, which protects Americans against unreasonable searches and seizures, because of the expansion of the surveillance state it represents. It takes Section 314 of the Patriot Act, which is supposedly aimed at combating terrorist activity, and expands its reach to numerous domestic crimes that have nothing to do with terrorism.”
“Another concerning aspect is the regulatory component of the bill, which would allow the Treasury Department to promulgate regulations to enforce it. This is concerning given that the regulatory state is already out of control. Congress shouldn’t be surrendering even more of its lawmaking authority to unelected bureaucrats. The Treasury Department has already issued regulations that require financial institutions to share information with federal agencies. Because of its expansion of Section 314, more information about financial transactions unrelated to terrorism could be swept up by the federal government.”
“Finally, this bill did not go through committee and no amendments can be offered. A bill with such far-reaching implications must be considered under regular order.”