A group of powerful figures in the US Democratic Party, referred to as “national security Democrats,” are accused of actively undermining attempts to improve American internet users’ privacy protections and end the practice of warrantless dragnet data collection and surveillance.
According to Gizmodo, citing both Democratic and Republican sources in Washington, these officials include Chairman of the House Intelligence Committee Adam Schiff and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, who is a former member of this body.
Meanwhile, concerns about their behavior have come to light in a letter signed by close to a dozen groups promoting civil liberties that come from both sides of the political spectrum.
Last March, mass surveillance authorized by the Patriot Act (an amendment to the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, FISA) expired. It allowed for dragnet surveillance – but the letter now says that this type of surveillance “may still be occurring despite the sunset of these authorities, on the basis of secret claims of inherent executive power or through the misuse of other authorities.”
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Specifically, there are fears that the FBI may have abused Patriot Act’s Section 215 to force tech companies to turn over vast amounts of data of their users.
This would mean continued data collection without congressional approval despite the fact the FISA reauthorization bill was not passed.
And when the issue of amending existing legislation was raised in May behind closed doors, to find ways of protecting US residents against the FBI accessing their internet activity, including search and browsing history – regardless of whether they are suspected of committing a criminal act, and without a warrant Schiff and other top Democrats are said to have sabotaged the negotiations to introduce a privacy-friendly amendment every step of the way.
“It is now clear that there is no agreement with the House Intelligence Committee to enact true protections for Americans’ rights against dragnet collection of online activity,” Senator Ron Wyden, known for his pro-privacy policies, said at the time.
Schiff is accused by groups such as Demand Progress of having hurt illegal immigrants by trying to narrow the scope of the amendment only to US citizens, rather than all residents, but even according to this organization, the bottom line is that there is “reason to fear he did it to allow for domestic surveillance of everybody.”
Though, when it comes to privacy, Republican bills leave much to be desired too.