Protest | Surveillance

Lawmakers Call for the Drug Enforcement Administration to End Its Surveillance of Protesters

William Barr and Jeffrey Rosen
U.S. Attorney General William Barr and Deputy Attorney General Jeffrey A. Rosen participate in a summit on “Combating Anti-Semitism” at the Justice Department in Washington, U.S. July 15, 2019. REUTERS/Erin Scott

The Department of Justice (DoJ) recently approved a request from the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) for the authority to “conduct covert surveillance” on protesters demonstrating against the police killing of George Floyd, according to a memo obtained by BuzzFeed News.

Following nationwide protests, the DEA requested a temporary expansion of certain powers, including the ability to surreptitiously spy on protesters, share intelligence with state and local law enforcement officers, and allow its agents to make non-drug-related arrests.

The news has troubled civil rights groups and free speech advocates, who worry the DEA’s expanded powers will be used to curtail protected speech. 

Hugh Handeyside, Senior Staff Attorney at the ACLU National Security Project, told Buzzfeed News that DEA agents “should not be conducting covert surveillance of protests and First Amendment protected speech” and the surveillance tactics might “constitute unwarranted investigation of people exercising their constitutional rights to seek justice.” 

On June 2, Democratic Representatives Jerry Nadler and Karen Bass sent a letter to Attorney General William Barr demanding that he immediately rescind the DEA’s expanded authorities.

“The DEA’s narcotics interdiction tactics are not appropriate measures to address the limited violence that has taken place over the past few days or to monitor peaceful protests,” the letter said. “The expansion of the DEA’s law enforcement authority, including the use of ‘covert surveillance’ and collection of intelligence, is unwarranted and antithetical to the American people’s right to peacefully assemble and to exercise their Constitutional rights without undue Intrusion.”

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