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Surveillance program poses threat to First Amendment rights

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  1. National Security

The Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press is asking the Privacy and Civil Liberties Oversight Board to study reforming Section 702 of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act to protect First Amendment rights.

In public comments submitted on Nov. 4, 2022, the Reporters Committee highlighted that the surveillance program poses potential threats to reporter-source confidentiality and the free flow of information to the public. The comments come as the board prepares to examine Section 702 in advance of the program’s expiration at the end of 2023.

Reporters Committee attorneys noted that information gathered through Section 702 has been searched for improper purposes, according to official disclosures, and that similar counterterrorism authorities have been used to investigate journalists on a number of occasions. They also added that any limits on the government’s authority under Section 702 can be undermined by overbroad data collection under Executive Order 12333, which governs foreign intelligence collection overseas but can “incidentally” sweep in a large amount of data and communications content from Americans.

“Whatever the particular authority at issue,” RCFP attorneys wrote, “overbroad surveillance damages journalists’ ability to guarantee the confidentiality of their contacts and raises serious concerns about their ability to pursue constitutionally protected newsgathering free from government interference.”

The Reporters Committee regularly files friend-of-the-court briefs and its attorneys represent journalists and news organizations pro bono in court cases that involve First Amendment freedoms, the newsgathering rights of journalists and access to public information. Stay up-to-date on our work by signing up for our monthly newsletter and following us on Twitter or Instagram.

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