- The Washington Times - Tuesday, June 9, 2020

Thirty-five congressional Democrats complained Tuesday about the surveillance conducted by federal agencies of peaceful protests taking place following the killing of George Floyd.

“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,” the group of nearly three dozen lawmakers wrote in a letter addressed to the heads of the agencies.

“We demand that you cease any and all surveilling of Americans engaged in peaceful protests,” they added.

Led by Reps. Anna G. Eshoo of California and Bobby L. Rush of Illinois, the letter cites several recent news reports that have emerged in light of protests taking place across the country following the racially charged killing last month of Mr. Floyd, 46, an unarmed black man who died in the custody of the Minneapolis Police Department in Minnesota.

News outlets have recently reported that the FBI, National Guard and CBP operated camera-equipped aircraft deployed over the protests, and that the DEA was granted broad authority to “conduct covert surveillance” over demonstrators reacting to Mr. Floyd’s death, the Democrats noted.

Other articles cited by the lawmakers include several published by a range of outlets recently about how protesters can protect their digital privacy while participating in First Amendment-protected activities.

“Americans should not have to take proactive measures to protect themselves from government surveillance before engaging in peaceful demonstration,” the letter continued. “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.”

Representatives for CBP and the National Guard Bureau said that correspondence with members of Congress is handled through official channels and addressed directly with lawmakers.

Wayne Hall, a spokesman for the National Guard Bureau, also told The Washington Times that a West Virginia Air National Guard RC-26 aircraft was used to provide situational awareness for the D.C. National Guardsmen overnight from June 2-3.

“The mission focused on key federal buildings, infrastructure and lines of communications (e.g. roads, intersections and landmarks) that were observed in order to support local law enforcement,” Mr. Hall told The Times. “During this mission, no U.S. citizens were specifically monitored.”

The FBI said in a statement that its efforts are on targeting violent or otherwise criminal activity and not those peacefully exercising their First Amendment rights.

“The FBI does not conduct surveillance based solely on First Amendment protected activity,” the FBI said in a statement, adding it “continues to remain steadfast in our mission to protect the American people and uphold the U.S. Constitution.”

The DEA confirmed receiving the letter but did not offer comment on its contents.

Mr. Floyd died May 25 after being forcefully restrained for several minutes by the MPD while under arrest, sparking protests that have taken place in cities nationwide in the days since. Riots have erupted in some instances as well, resulting in President Trump mobilizing the U.S. military last week and threatening to use troops to try to quell the unrest.

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