The U.S. Senate confirmed Kansas Republican Rep. Mike Pompeo to be the Director of the CIA late on Monday over concerns from several congressional Democrats, who warned that putting Pompeo at the head of the intelligence agency would threaten civil liberties.
In an impassioned floor speech, Sen. Bernie Sanders called it “vital to have a head of the CIA who will stand up for our constitution, stand up for privacy rights.” He continued, “Unfortunately, in my view, Mr. Pompeo is not that individual.”
As we said late last year, we have concerns that many of President Donald Trump’s nominees, including Pompeo, will undermine digital rights and civil liberties, and those concerns persist.
Specifically, Pompeo sponsored legislation that would have reinstated the National Security Agency’s bulk collection of Americans’ telephone metadata—an invasive program that civil liberties and privacy advocates fought to curtail by enacting the USA FREEDOM Act.
We also noted troubling op-eds written by Pompeo. In one piece in late 2015, Pompeo criticized Republican presidential candidates who were supposedly “weak” on national security and intelligence collection. “Less intelligence capacity equals less safety,” he wrote.
In another op-ed a few weeks later, Pompeo criticized lawmakers for “blunting [the intelligence community’s] surveillance powers” and called for “a fundamental upgrade to America’s surveillance capabilities.”
Critics on the Senate floor—including Sens. Ron Wyden, Patrick Leahy and Bernie Sanders—honed in on the latter op-ed, which also recommended restarting the metadata collection that was curtailed under USA FREEDOM Act and “combining it with publicly available financial and lifestyle information into a comprehensive, searchable database.” Pompeo continued, “Legal and bureaucratic impediments to surveillance should be removed.”
While Pompeo’s defenders argued that an effective intelligence agency should be utilizing publicly available information posted to social media, Wyden—who fought for delay to give the Senate more time to consider Pompeo’s nomination—drew a sharp distinction between seeking out social media information related to a known intelligence target and creating the database Pompeo has envisioned.
“It is something else entirely to create a giant government database of everyone’s social media postings and to match that up with everyone’s phone records,” Wyden said, calling the idea “a vast database on innocent Americans.”
Wyden also criticized Pompeo for skirting questions from lawmakers about what kinds of information would end up in the database, including whether the database would include information held by data brokers, the third-party companies that build profiles of internet users. He criticized Pompeo for being unwilling to “articulate the boundaries of what is a very extreme proposal.”
EFF thanks all 32 Senators who voted against Pompeo and his expansive vision of government surveillance. We were especially pleased by the “no” vote from our new home-state Sen. Kamala Harris of California.
EFF and other civil liberties advocates will work hard to hold Pompeo accountable as CIA Director and block any attempts by him or anyone else to broaden the intrusive government surveillance powers that threaten our basic privacy rights.