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ACLU urges Senate to grill AG nominee Barr on surveillance, privacy

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As Congress prepares to question William Barr in confirmation hearings to become Attorney General, the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) is warning lawmakers that Barr’s “record regarding the right to privacy and the Fourth Amendment…raises serious concerns about his suitability” to hold the post.

Contending that Barr helped create the U.S.’s surveillance state during his stint as Attorney General in the George H.W. Bush administration where he was instrumental in creating the “blueprint” for the National Security Agency (NSA) bulk data collection program, ACLU Senior Legislative Counsel Neema Singh Guliani and the organization’s political researcher and strategist Brian Tashman called Barr’s nomination “more evidence that the Trump administration will continue to pursue vast surveillance powers at the expense of our Fourth Amendment rights and will have little respect for Congress’s power.”

In 1992, Barr and his then-deputy Robert Mueller, the special counsel heading the Russia probe, authorized the Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA)to “collect phone call data in bulk, ordering telephone companies to secretly hand over the records of all phone calls from the U.S. to countries” where drug traffickers were thought to be operating. That number swelled to more than 100 countries and the program became the basis for the NSA mass surveillance program exposed by Edward Snowden more than 20 years later.

During the early 2000s, Barr was the executive vice president and general counsel at Verizon, which turned allowed the NSA “without any court approval — to intercept the contents of Americans’ phone calls and emails and to vacuum up in bulk the metadata associated with Americans’ phone calls and internet activities” as part of the Stellar Wind surveillance program, the duo explained.

In addition, Barr “has held the legal position that Americans do not have a Fourth Amendment-protected privacy interest in data held by third parties” and has advocated for “sweeping executive authority,” the ACLU held.

“Congress should question Barr about whether he will be a roadblock to still-needed surveillance reforms and whether he believes the government has the power to resurrect or expand warrantless spying programs,”wrote Guliani and Tashman, urging the Senate Judiciary to “seize their opportunity to question Barr thoroughly and determine whether he will protect Americans from government intrusions and expansive executive power if he’s returned to run the Justice Department for a second time.”

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