Asian Americans Raise Alarm Over ‘Chilling Effects’ of Section 702 Surveillance Program

Dozens of prominent Asian American groups are asking United States lawmakers this morning to hold fast in the face of an anticipated campaign by congressional leaders to extend the Section 702 surveillance program by securing it, like a rider, to another “must pass” bill.

Sixty-three groups across the country representing and allied with Asian American and Pacific Islander communities have signed a letter of “strong opposition” to any “short-term extension” of the 702 program—surveillance, the groups say, that is almost certainly impacting Asian Americans at a disproportionate rate.

WIRED first reported last week on an effort underway by US Senate leaders to extend the 702 program, which is slated to expire at the end of the year but may continue until April under the program’s “transition procedures.” Emails from WIRED requesting comment from the Senate majority leader, Chuck Schumer, have gone unanswered since Friday.

“Section 702 and related surveillance authorities have been misused to spy on Americans, including but not limited to protesters, journalists, campaign donors, and members of Congress,” says the letter, signed by the National Council of Asian Pacific Americans, the Sikh Coalition, Asian Americans Advancing Justice, and the Stop AAPI Hate coalition, among dozens of other groups. The consequences of unlawful surveillance have had a “devastating toll” on Asian Americans, they say, and on people’s “careers, livelihoods, and reputations.”

Demanding the 702 program be “pursued through standalone legislation” and open to debate, the letter says a short-term fix would alienate lawmakers already open to salvaging the program—albeit with heavily favored reforms. Renewing the program with a last-minute amendment tucked into a bill the government can’t function without would only serve to undermine the democratic process, the groups say, and “imperil the long-term viability of Section 702.”

“There are a lot of folks who are really worried,” says Andy Wong, managing director of advocacy at Stop AAPI Hate, a coalition of community-based groups. The impact of government surveillance on the broader Asian American community, he says, runs deep. “Whether it’s traveling or communicating with their loved ones or doing anything abroad, even if it’s completely innocuous, all of this surveillance has a chilling effect.”

“Approximately two-thirds of Asian Americans are immigrants,” says Joanna YangQing Derman, a program director at Asian Americans Advancing Justice, the civic engagement and civil rights nonprofit. “We are far more likely to have family, friends, and business associates abroad. As a result, Asian Americans are likely to be overrepresented in all the data that Section 702 enables the government to collect.”

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