A group of seven House Republicans sent a letter to the Capitol Police on Tuesday demanding answers over the agency’s new surveillance apparatus spying on constituents who petition their government.
On Monday, Politico revealed the intelligence unit of the Capitol Police “quietly” began to scrutinize the backgrounds, records, and social media of those who meet with members after the Jan. 6 riot at the complex, including staff.
“Analysts were also directed to probe the ownership of buildings where members of Congress held their meetings,” the paper reported, where public and private off-campus visits now come under a government microscope. The Capitol building remains closed to visitors.
Beyond foreign ownership, analysts were directed to provide more information about the buildings where members of Congress held meetings. The intelligence division leadership asked analysts to search for information about how many rooms were in these buildings, what amenities were available, and even their last remodeling.
Analysts also were tasked with sifting through tax and real estate records to find out who owned the properties that lawmakers visited. For example, the unit scrutinized a meeting that Sen. Rick Scott (R-Fla.) held with donors in a private home. Analysts eyed the homeowner’s and attendees’ social media accounts, and looked for any foreign contacts they had.
House lawmakers questioned the authority under which Capitol Police may engage in the extensive surveillance of private citizens.
“Such a dramatic shift in Capitol security processes would require congressional approval, which to our knowledge has not been given,” they wrote in their letter to the Capitol’s chief security officials. “A decision to expand background checks and intelligence-gathering to a previously unsurveilled group of individuals constitutes a dramatic and troubling expansion of the USCP’s authority.”
North Dakota Rep. Kelly Armstrong, a lead signatory of the letter alongside Reps. Jim Banks, R-Ind., and Jim Jordan, R-Ohio., who are leading the Republican investigation into the Capitol riot, told The Federalist that Capitol Police likely launched its enhanced surveillance last fall.
“We need to know everything,” Armstrong said. “I want to know where it goes, how high it goes, and why all of this exists.”
How many resources the Capitol Police have dedicated to the surveillance effort remains an open question. It was only three weeks ago Capitol Police Chief J. Thomas Manger testified his security force was plagued with severe staffing shortages.
“The biggest challenge I have is the staffing problem,” Manger told the Senate Rules and Administration Committee. “You can’t do training if you’re so short of staffing that you can’t pull people off of posts and send them to do training.”
Federalist Senior Tech Columnist and Senior Director of Policy at the Conservative Partnership Institute Rachel Bovard wrote in Tuesday’s BRIGHT Newsletter that Capitol security’s surveillance program “threatens the essence of our representative self-government.”
“The right to petition your government is baked into the Constitution of the United States, right there in the First Amendment,” Bovard wrote. “That does not include submitting to a virtual cavity search, and having private records stored as a result, without your knowledge or consent.”