Attorney General nominee William Barr has a controversial past, according to the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU). ACLU is warning lawmakers that Barr’s “record regarding the privacy and Fourth Amendment…raises serious concerns about his suitability” for the position.
That controversial past, according to ACLU, involves warrantless surveillance of the American people and the push to make it easier for phone companies to turn over customer records to the government.
ACLU contends that Barr helped build the surveillance state in the U.S., which has influenced other countries to do the same. Barr served as Attorney General under George H.W. Bush, where he reportedly played an integral role in creating the framework for the National Security Agency’s (NSA) bulk data collection program.
Barr, with the help of his then-deputy Robert Mueller, created a program that allowed the Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) and Justice Department to collect telephone records of millions of Americans – whether or not they were suspected of criminal activity.
Details of that program were first revealed in 2015.
In 2003, Barr argued that the PATRIOT Act did not address what he viewed as “severe problems” with FISA, the law that allowed for the collection of electronic foreign intelligence. Barr argued in favor of eliminating the need for “probable cause” that individuals targeted by FISA were acting on behalf of a foreign power. He pointed to law enforcement’s difficulty in doing so in the case of Zacarias Moussaoui, al Qaeda member, who was later sentenced to life in prison for plotting to take part in the 9/11 terrorist attacks.
In the George W. Bush era, Barr served as general counsel and vice president at Verizon. During this period, the company participated in Stellar Wind, a warrantless surveillance program. Verizon allowed the NSA to intercept the contents of Americans’ emails and phone calls.
The Justice Department would eventually conclude that parts of the program were illegal.
Barr, while serving as Verizon’s general counsel, also lobbied Congress to provide telecom companies with immunity – retroactive and future – from private lawsuits for participating in surveillance programs.
“Members of the Senate Judiciary Committee must seize their opportunity to question Barr thoroughly and determine whether he will protect Americans from government intrusions and expansive executive power if he’s returned to run the Justice Department for a second time,” ACLU says.
Barr is expected to succeed Sessions as Attorney General. Despite the ACLU’s argument, he is highly qualified for the position.