Stop this horrifying mass surveillance bill

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Dear Friend of Press Freedom,

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Don’t let the government turn citizens into spies

The House has slipped a horrifying amendment into its bill extending intelligence agencies’ already expansive spying powers under Section 702 of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act.

Anyone who values press freedom — or their own freedom — needs to tell their senators TODAY to VOTE NO on the Reforming Intelligence and Securing America Act, or RISAA, by calling 202-899-8938. You can also use the Electronic Frontier Foundation’s Action Center or email your senators using this Brennan Center tool.

Otherwise, you may soon live in a full-fledged surveillance state where Americans are forced to spy on journalists, as well as their customers and neighbors. As our Advocacy Director Seth Stern and our founding Board Member John Cusack wrote in the Chicago Sun-Times, the bill “means virtually any vendor who enters your home, or any business you visit, could be forced to become an involuntary government agent. That should chill you to the bone.”

That may sound alarmist, but here’s how Sen. Ron Wyden explained it: “If this provision is enacted, the government could deputize any one of these people against their will, and force them to become an agent for Big Brother. For example, by forcing an employee to insert a USB thumb drive into a server at an office they clean or guard at night.”

Section 702 currently allows the government to compel Big Tech corporations to turn over user information, but as our deputy advocacy director, Caitlin Vogus, wrote in The Guardian, those companies “command armies of lawyers, receive Section 702 orders frequently, and have a commercial incentive to at least appear to care about their customers’ privacy concerns. But what hope could a news organization have that its cleaning crew, for instance, will want to take on the federal government on its behalf?”

And any surveillance power given to the government will inevitably be used to snoop on journalists. As Stern told Rolling Stone, the bill “would let intelligence agencies commandeer countless American businesses and individuals to spy on journalists and their sources on the government’s behalf.”

The bill would even put people’s personal safety in harm’s way. Google and Verizon can turn over user information from the comfort of their corporate offices, but the plumber conscripted to install a thumb drive in a customer’s home could be threatened, assaulted, or worse if caught.

We’re doing our part to get the word out about this awful, dystopian bill, as are plenty of other civil liberties organizations that have sounded the alarm. Please do your part by emailing or calling your senators at 202-899-8938 and telling them to VOTE NO on RISAA.

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California police violate press rights

California police are violating state law “right and left” during the protests and police raids on campus encampments. That’s according to University of California, Irvine, School of Law professor Susan Seager. We interviewed her in the wake of arrests of two California journalists in recent weeks, among other press freedom violations. Suppression of the press isn’t supposed to happen anywhere in America, but especially not in California, where it’s explicitly against the law for police to intentionally interfere with journalists covering a demonstration.

Cops on campus arrest, bully journalists

As police stormed several college campuses in recent days and arrested hundreds of students protesting the Israel-Gaza war, the free press was also under attack. Texas Department of Public Safety officers arrested Carlos Sanchez, a photojournalist for the local Fox affiliate, as he was covering protests at the University of Texas at Austin. But police can’t seem to make up their minds about what, exactly, they want us to believe Sanchez did wrong, repeatedly bringing then dropping charges against the photographer.

Biden signs off on 'spy draft'

Last week, we warned of a dangerous new bill that would expand the surveillance law Section 702 of FISA. Unfortunately, the Senate approved the Reforming Intelligence and Securing America Act, or RISAA, over the weekend, officially reauthorizing Section 702 without any significant reforms and with dangerous expansions of the intelligence agencies’ spy powers. President Biden quickly signed the bill into law, authorizing intelligence agencies to essentially “institute a spy draft” that could require ordinary Americans and businesses to help the government surveil online communications, including those of journalists.