Mark Sanford sees an opportunity in a looming government shutdown.
In order to keep the federal government operating after Jan. 19, Congress also has to reach an agreement on renewing a government surveillance program.
Sanford thinks that gives his more libertarian-minded colleagues a chance to limit the government’s ability to limit how the government collects citizens’ digital data.
“Individual liberty and personal privacy are two of the hallmarks of the American experiment, and current law compels American companies to assist in what would amount to warrantless surveillance,” Sanford said in a post on his Facebook page. “It was intended for foreigners, but once the information is in their database, they now routinely are able to look at Americans’ communications without a warrant.”
The Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act – which among other things, allows the U.S. government to collect user data from American companies for bulk analysis – was up for an eight-year reauthorization by the end of the year. But opposition to the renewal led to the government’s data-collecting powers being rolled into a one-month government funding extension approved last week.
“A number of conservatives would vote yes on the (spending bill) so that the government would stay open through January 19th in exchange for an open and separate debate and vote on our surveillance activities before the temporary reauthorization ends on January 19th,” Sanford said.
Now, Sanford is co-sponsoring a bill to limit the government’s access to users’ personal information. It would require a warrant to search any “private communications to, from, and about Americans,” including communications between a U.S. citizen and a foreigner targeted for surveillance; exempt all domestic communications inside the United States from surveillance; and require congressional reauthorization every four years.
“The Founding Fathers believed that none of us were perfect, and if one rooted around long enough, something could be found that would be, if not unlawful, then at least uncomfortable for most any of us when viewed by others or put into public light,” Sanford said.