Letter to Christopher A. Wray, Federal Bureau of Investigation Director; Joseph L. Lengyel, National Guard Bureau Chief; Timothy Shea, Drug Enforcement Administration Acting Administrator; and Mark A. Morgan, Customs and Border Protection Acting Commissioner - Reps. Eshoo, Rush, House Colleagues Demand Federal Agencies Cease Surveillance of Protests
Dear Director Wray, General Lengyel, Acting Administrator Shea, and
Acting Commissioner Morgan,
We write to you to express our deep and profound concerns that the surveillance tactics of the
Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), the National Guard Bureau, the Drug Enforcement
Administration (DEA), and Customs and Border Protection (CBP) during the recent protests
across the U.S. are significantly chilling the First Amendment rights of Americans. We
demand that you cease any and all surveilling of Americans engaged in peaceful protests.
George Floyd and Breonna Taylor are only the most recent cases of Black Americans who've
been murdered by law enforcement officials in our country. We stand with the millions of
Americans in hundreds of communities who are peacefully calling for transformational
changes to better our nation by addressing the systemic racism and injustice embedded in our
The First Amendment protects the right of Americans to assemble and protest government
actions. Further, the Fourth Amendment protects "[t]he right of the people to be secure in
their persons against unreasonable searches and seizures," a restriction that applies to the
agencies you lead.
While the job of law enforcement is to protect Americans, limited actions may be necessary
if a demonstration turns violent. However, this authority does not grant the agencies you lead
to surveil American citizens or collect vast amounts of personal information. Recent press
reports indicate that:
* the FBI and National Guard flew RC-26B aircraft equipped with infrared and electrooptical cameras over Washington, D.C. and Las Vegas;
* the FBI may have flown Cessna 560 aircraft equipped with "dirtboxes,' equipment
that can collect cell phone location data, over Washington, D.C.;
* the CBP flew Predator drones that collected and disseminated live video feeds over
Minneapolis, San Antonio, and Detroit; and
* the DEA was granted broad authority to "conduct covert surveillance" over protesters
responding to the death of George Floyd.
Aside from these documented examples of vast overreach of federal government surveillance
in just the last 10 days, we know that federal agencies, including the ones you lead, have used
other technologies to surveil Americans, such as Stingrays, which mimic cell towers to
collect location, call, text, and browsing data of nearby cellular devices; facial recognition
technology; and automated license plate readers.
Americans have a healthy fear of government surveillance that started at the founding of our
country and has continued to modern times. Polls show that seven in ten Americans believe
the government surveils their phone calls and emails. In November 2019, nearly two-thirds
of Americans said they were concerned about how the government collects and uses data
Government surveillance has a chilling effect. Downloads for encrypted messaging apps have
spiked during recent demonstrations, showing a broad concern of surveillance among
protesters. As further evidence of the concerns of protesters, the following headlines have
appeared in popular publications or on the websites of civil society groups over the 10 days,
aiming to help Americans considering protesting protect themselves:
* Washington Post, "Your protest is being watched. Here's how to protect your privacy"
* Vice, "How to Protest Without Sacrificing Your Digital Privacy"
* The Verge, "How to secure your phone before attending a protest"
* WIRED, "How to Protest Safely in the Age of Surveillance"
* Consumer Reports, "How to Protect Phone Privacy and Security During a Protest"
* Electronic Frontier Foundation, "Surveillance Self-Defense: Attending Protests in the
Age of COVID-19,"
* Project on Government Oversight, "How to Respond to Risk of Surveillance While
Americans should not have to take proactive measures to protect themselves from
government surveillance before engaging in peaceful demonstration. The fact that the
agencies you lead have created an environment in which such headlines are common is, in
and of itself, an indication of the chilling effect of government surveillance on law-abiding
Americans. For these reasons, we demand you cease surveilling peaceful protests
immediately and permanently.