(WASHINGTON, D.C.)- Today, Congressmen Andy Levin (MI-09), Jamie Raskin (MD-08), and Congresswoman Ilhan Omar (MN-05) sent a letter to Attorney General William Barr to express grave concern over reports that the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) has been granted authority to conduct warrantless surveillance of Americans protesting in support of racial justice and an end to police brutality. The letter asks that the Department of Justice immediately rescind this authority and ensure that DEA activities do not exceed the scope of authority granted to the agency by Congress.
According to a Justice Department memo, on May 31, the Department approved a request from acting DEA Administrator Timothy J. Shea for authority to “conduct covert surveillance” in response to these protests.
A section of the letter reads:
“DEA’s stated intention to ‘conduct covert surveillance’ is extremely distressing. First, the memo fails to describe or place any guardrails around such surveillance, thus opening the door to sweeping, warrantless surveillance activities inconsistent with the preservation of civil liberties. The use of the term ‘covert’ suggests that DEA’s actions will not be apparent to the public and could encroach upon activities wherein Americans have a reasonable expectation of privacy. It is also critical to note that Americans engaged in protests are protected by the First Amendment, and that exercising the constitutionally protected right to free speech is not evidence of a crime or intent to commit a crime. This surveillance will unquestionably have a chilling effect on Americans’ exercise of their First Amendment rights and could constitute an unconstitutional violation of their civil liberties.
“Protesting is patriotic act. Spying on protesters? Not so much,” Rep. Levin said. “Americans from Washington, DC to Los Angeles, CA to Sterling Heights, MI have spent these past weeks exercising their First Amendment right to demand racial justice and an end to police brutality. The Bill of Rights spells out our freedom to ‘petition the Government for a redress of grievances,’ and that’s exactly what Americans are doing. For the Justice Department to discourage or inhibit that is to interfere with one of the most American traditions.”
“Under Attorney General Barr’s leadership, the DOJ has not only formed what appears to be a secret paramilitary riot force in our nation’s capital, but has now allowed the DEA to conduct warrantless surveillance of peaceful protestors,” Rep. Raskin said. “These actions offend the constitutional rights of the American people, who are exercising their freedoms of assembly, redress and speech to protest the systemic racism and injustice faced by millions of Americans.”
“Inspired by the protests in my district, people across our country are protesting systemic racism and police violence in America. All Americans deserve the right to protest free from surveillance,” Rep. Omar said. “Especially given the country’s history of surveilling and tracking civil rights leaders, it is absurd the DEA has been given the authority to infringe on the constitutional rights of those protesting. The continuation of warrantless surveillance is extremely dangerous to our democratic process. I am glad to join my colleagues in demanding the end to this clear violation of civil liberties.”
Read a signed copy of the letter here.