People For the American Way

Letter: Surveillance Reformers Oppose USA LIBERTY Act

People For in Action

Update: On November 8, the House Judiciary Committee defeated an amendment offered by Representatives Ted Poe and Zoe Lofgren to help close the backdoor search loophole. PFAW, Demand Progress, and 41 other organizations supported the Poe-Lofgren amendment. You can view and download our letter, with signers, here. The USA LIBERTY Act went on to pass out of that committee and now awaits consideration by other committees with jurisdiction.

On October 24, People For the American Way joined other surveillance reformers to endorse the USA RIGHTS Act, which prohibits the collection of domestic communications, among other federal government abuses of the surveillance authorities granted by Section 702 of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act. Now PFAW and many of those same groups are opposing the USA LIBERTY Act because it does not include a domestic communications prohibition. Together, we are calling on members of the House Judiciary Committee to oppose this bill in their upcoming markup or to close what’s known as the backdoor search loophole. You can download our letter, with footnotes, here.

Dear Chairman Goodlatte, Ranking Member Conyers, and Members of the House Judiciary Committee:

We, the undersigned civil liberties, civil rights, and transparency organizations, respectfully urge members of the House Judiciary Committee to oppose the USA LIBERTY Act when it is marked up by committee unless it closes the so-called “backdoor search loophole” through which the government searches—without first obtaining a court-issued warrant based on probable cause—for information about U.S. persons or persons inside the U.S.

As former Senate Intelligence Committee Chair Dianne Feinstein said this past week concerning her amendment to close the loophole: “The Supreme Court has consistently ruled that a warrant is required prior to accessing the content of an American’s phone calls or emails.”1 “It’s important that before law enforcement accesses these private emails, they first get a warrant as required under the 4th Amendment of the Constitution.”2 The House Judiciary Committee should report legislation that exceeds the low bar set by Sen. Feinstein.

To protect our liberty and respect our constitutional rights, any legislation reported by committee should fully the backdoor search loophole. The USA RIGHTS Act, which 42 organizations endorsed,3 provides a model (and legislative language) for how this can be accomplished.

Sincerely yours,

Advocacy for Principled Action in Government
American Library Association
American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee
Association of Research Libraries
Campaign for Liberty
Center for Human Rights and Privacy
Color Of Change
Constitutional Alliance
CREDO Action
Demand Progress Action
Essential Information
Free Press Action Fund
Government Accountability Project
Government Information Watch
Media Alliance
National Center for Transgender Equality
National Coalition Against Censorship
Oakland Privacy
People for the American Way
Restore The Fourth
Sunlight Foundation
The Center for Popular Democracy
Yemen Peace Project


Civil Liberties, FISA, Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, surveillance, USA LIBERTY Act, USA RIGHTS Act