On Tuesday, a bipartisan group of lawmakers from the Senate and House introduced a law that would prevent government agencies from concealing secret data seizures through gag orders.
The issue was brought into the limelight by journalists from The Times, The Post, and CNN learned that the DOJ had secretly obtained their records.
If the bill passes, government agencies will be required to notify their surveillance subjects that they have obtained their records from tech companies. The law does allow the government to secretly seize data but it puts a six-month limit on gag orders that prevent tech companies from telling users that their data had been seized.
We obtained a copy of the bill for you here.
If a government agency wants to pursue a gag order, it has to demonstrate to a court that notifying the subject carries the risk of witness tampering, the destruction of evidence, or a big risk of investigation interference.
“When the government obtains someone’s emails or other digital information, users have a right to know,” Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) said in a release.
“Our bill ensures that no investigation will be compromised, but makes sure the government can’t hide surveillance forever by misusing sealing and gag orders to prevent the American people from understanding the enormous scale of government surveillance, as well as ensuring that the targets eventually learn their personal information has been searched.”
Last June, the DOJ said it would no longer pursue gag orders for journalists, following the issue raised by journalists from the outlets mentioned earlier.
“Going forward, consistent with the president’s direction, this Department of Justice — in a change to its longstanding practice — will not seek compulsory legal process in leak investigations to obtain source information from members of the news media doing their jobs. The Department strongly values a free press, protecting First Amendment values, and is committed to taking all appropriate steps to ensure the independence of journalists,” the DOJ said at the time.