A proposal has been approved by the Senate Intelligence Committee that will limit the ability of the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) to question Americans for investigations regarding domestic intelligence.
The bill was passed last month in the committee and takes action to govern the amount of intel DHS is allowed to take in from American citizens.
The new language of the bill says that DHS may not engage in "the collection of information or intelligence targeting any United States person" except with limited exceptions.
Prior to the bill, DHS has been questioning many American citizens without lawyers present. Civil liberty organizations raised concerns about the practice as the agency could talk directly to people serving jail time without going through legal representation.
Republicans on the committee emphasized that the intent of the bill is to block domestic intelligence abuses coming from government agencies, according to Politico.
DHS' intelligence office had collected journalists' social media posts and coverage about political unrest in Portland, Oregon during summer of 2020.
This and other factors led to the approval of the bill in committee.
Those in the committee made comments about how a "news story from March 2023 exposed a troubling I&A practice of conducting custodial debriefings of individuals — including American citizens —without those individuals having any representative counsel present" as a reason to go forward with the bill.
When DHS was contacted for comment about the bill, an official pointed out a letter that had been written previously about the practice of interviewing citizens without a lawyer present.
The letter states that "custodial interviews," or interviews of people incarcerated, is consistent with the authority of DHS and have been "conducted in full accord with the principles that protect the privacy, civil liberties, and civil rights of Americans."
DHS referred to the authority bestowed on it when it was formed by the Bush administration after the 9/11 attacks on the US. It also stated that laws, such as Executive Order 12333, were revised to allow DHS to "[c]ollect (overtly or through publicly available sources), analyze, produce, and disseminate information intelligence, and counterintelligence to support national and departmental missions."
DHS agents could thereby question individuals but could not conceal their affiliation with the US Government.
The letter said that the agency used the authority to support "border security." More than "200 custodial interviews, primarily of administratively detained special interest migrants" led to six referrals to the Joint Terrorism Task Force.
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