SALT LAKE CITY — Sen. Mike Lee and Sen. Patrick Leahy question whether the Trump administration “secretly” continues to rely on powers it no longer has to spy on people.
Lee, R-Utah, and Leahy, D-Vt., sent a letter to Attorney General William Barr and National Intelligence Director John Ratcliffe on Tuesday demanding to know whether and how the administration has stopped mass surveillance programs allowed under now-expired Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act provisions.
“Congress and the American people have a right to know if this or any other administration is spying on people in the United States outside of express congressional approval, with no or diminished guardrails,” according to Lee and Leahy.
“And any surveillance conducted in the absence of statutory authorities and congressional oversight would be extraordinarily concerning and illegal.”
Provisions referred to as “lone wolf,” “roving wiretap” and Section 215 lapsed in March after Congress failed to reach an agreement on broader reforms to FISA.
Roving wiretaps track individuals across multiple devices. Lone wolf surveils people not connected to a known terrorist group. Section 215 allows the government to request “tangible things” such as documents relevant to a national security investigation.
Past administrations have also “tenuously” relied on a 1981 executive order to conduct surveillance operations independent of any law passed by Congress, the senators say. Relying on the order, according to the senators, would be “plainly illegal.”
“With the expiration of three duly-passed statutory surveillance authorities, the executive branch may be secretly relying on this or other alleged inherent powers to continue its intelligence collection efforts,” the senators wrote. “This would constitute a secret system of surveillance with no congressional oversight potentially resulting in programmatic Fourth Amendment violations on a tremendous scale.”
Lee and Leahy also demanded information on whether the administration is conducting surveillance that bypasses its lawful authorities, under any illegal claim of inherent surveillance powers.