Stealth Surveillance Legislation in Appropriations Bills
Washington, DC (September 19, 1996) -- Congress must remove provisions from an appropriations bill which would unfetter federal wiretappers, an unusual coalition of civil liberties and public interest groups said today. The organizations are protesting stealth legislation added to the Commerce, Justice, State and Judiciary spending bill by Senate appropriators which would loosen legal standards for intercepting telephone and electronic communications, permit interception in certain non-criminal political investigations, and provide funding for intercepting digital (fiber optic) voice and data communications.
The letter was signed by representatives of the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers (NACDL), the National Rifle Association, the ACLU, the National Black Police Association, the American Muslim Council and the Law Enforcement Alliance of America, among others.
"In a time of increasingly sophisticated and more intrusive electronic surveillance, rather than providing less protection for Americans' privacy, Congress should be ensuring greater safeguards," said NACDL Past President Gerald Goldstein, one of the letter's signers. Provisions added by Senate appropriators to the spending bill, H.R. 3814, are steps in the wrong direction, Goldstein said. The provisions expand the list of rationales triggering government wiretapping. They would also allow wiretapping of any phone, computer or other communications device a target might use--including public phone booths, and the phones of family friends, business associates and businesses not suspected of any crime--whether or not the surveillance target is attempting to thwart or evade a valid, court-authorized wiretap. This new provision would apply to all surveillance cases, not just organized crime or suspected terrorist investigations, as claimed by some.
The coalition also protests the funding of the Communications Assistance to Law Enforcement Act, which would allow federal agents to intercept fiber optic telephone and other digital communications, because the FBI has not developed a plan that would satisfy the Electronic Communications Privacy Act, according to the letter.
A copy of the letter is available from NACDL.
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