Restore the Fourth, 18 Allies Ask Congress To Investigate FBI Monitoring

The essence of the Fourth Amendment is that the government should leave you and your stuff alone, unless they can satisfy a judge that they have probable cause of your involvement in an actual crime.

Today, we’re calling for Congress to investigate whether the FBI is keeping that promise, relating to domestic advocacy groups, including Restore The Fourth itself.

Letter to the Senate Judiciary Committee * Press Release

Pat Eddington, of the Cato Institute, has spent much of 2019 trying to figure out the contours of FBI domestic surveillance. To that end, he sent off Freedom of Information Act requests to DOJ, asking for over 200 organizations whether the FBI had records relating to them. After a lengthy process of appeals, he received a response that said that for most of the organizations concerned, FBI had no responsive records, either in its domestic databases or its foreign intelligence and national security databases. For us, and for just a few other organizations, however, FBI refused to confirm or deny whether they had responsive records in their foreign intelligence and national security databases. It seems likely, based on this “Glomar” response, that there has been some kind of improper data-gathering or surveillance of us and other organizations, in violation of the FBI’s own rules as well as the Constitution.

Of course, it’s not just this sequence of FOIA requests that provides evidence of substantial FBI surveillance of people peacefully petitioning the government for a redress of grievances. From Muslim rights groups to Occupy, from Standing Rock to so-called “Black Identity Extremists”, the FBI has been taking a steadily deeper interest since 9/11 in policing domestic dissent, as it shifted from a “law enforcement” focus to a “counter-terrorism” focus.

It’s time for our Senators and Members of Congress, especially those on the Judiciary Committee, to stand up and demand that they respect Americans’ rights. Call your Senator and Congressmember now on (202) 224-3121 to support our call!

DID YOU GET THE MEMO?

You’ve probably seen the buzz around #ReleaseTheMemo on social and other media. But perhaps you found it hard to follow from a privacy advocate’s point of view.

The House Intelligence Committee in Congress agreed to share a document that allegedly described abuses of FISA surveillance, pending the president’s approval. 

Now that it’s finally been released, let’s take a look if it lived up to the hype…

The predictions:

  • It would describe political surveillance, conducted with the knowledge of President Obama, of people involved in the Trump campaign
  • It would show the bias inherent in the Mueller investigation of President Trump
  • It would vastly misrepresent the underlying intelligence reports
  • It would be unprecedented to release to the public reports of such a highly classified nature, potentially compromising national security
  • It would provide substantial evidence for the need of greater oversight of FISA surveillance

The precedents:

The realities:

  • Its main point is that the FBI failed to disclose bias by former British intelligence officer Christopher Steele against Trump as part of its application for a FISA warrant; But it was already well-known that Steele’s firm received payment from Democrats, that he was vehemently opposed to Trump’s election, and that his dossier constituted opposition research
  • It doesn’t lessen any suspicion of collaboration between the Trump campaign and Russian operatives, because that has been shown from other sources than the Steele dossier
  • Perhaps the FBI should have caveated better on the FISA application as to Steele’s motivations.
  • However, the memo doesn’t seem to substantively reveal improper political surveillance by the FBI motivated by political animus against Trump
  • From our standpoint, the memo seems to have been released as a parry in the knife fight of partisan struggles; it doesn’t reveal material relevant to Restore the Fourth’s mission
  • Suggestions of the memo compromising national security seem to be overblown; the memo could easily have been part of a public discussion prior to this, and the fact that it wasn’t suggests that our system vastly overclassifies information, and is reluctant to let the public know about things we’re in fact fully capable of understanding.