Stop Asian Hate

Return of surveillance measure slammed by scores of Asian American groups

By Gilda Balan, Correspondent

No less than 63 Asian American organizations recently sent a letter to Congress protesting the reauthorization of Section 702, a controversy-filled statute that they warn could be used to racially profile communities of color.

A report that came out at NBC Asian America and bylined by reporter Kimmy Yam said the 63 groups urged lawmakers to reject a short-term extension of the statute.

Section 702 authorizes US intelligence agencies to acquire communications of non-Americans who use American communication platforms without need of a warrant.

The program expires at the end of this year and a decision will have to decide whether to let it end or extend it further, as has been suggested by some lawmakers.

The Asian American groups argue that the surveillance allowed under the section had previously been used against Asian Americans.

One of its victims was professor Xiaoxing Xi, who was arrested in May 2015 for allegedly spying for China before the case was scrapped months later.

Gisela Perez Kusakawa, executive director of the Asian American Scholar Forum, said, “Part of the reason why his case inspires so much concern is…that fear that the methods that were used on Dr. Xiaoxing Xi are being used against the Asian American scholar community as a whole.”

In other words, it can be used to foment some forms of Asian American hate, and by the government no less.

“The existing surveillance authority that the government has needs appropriate checks and balances so that racial profiling does not take place,” she added.

The groups also sought a floor vote on the Government Surveillance Reform Act of 2023, a bipartisan bill introduced earlier that would require warrants for the government purchase of private data, among other major changes, according to the article by Yam.

The coalition argued that the statute has been misused to spy on Americans in the past. In the case of Professor Xi, the FBI relied on the statute to surveil his communications with colleagues in China without a warrant.

Before the case against him collapsed, the professor was threatened with up to 80 years in prison and a fine of $1 million. Xi is one of several Asian American scientists who have been falsely accused of espionage.

According to Kusakawa, her organization recognizes legitimate threats to national security, but a stronger system of checks and balances is needed to protect civil rights.

She said, “When we lack sufficient protections, when we lack these guardrails, it results in a chilling effect that leads to a loss of talent and trust in our country.”

(This resource is supported in whole or in part by funding provided by the State of California, administered by the California State Library in partnership with the California Department of Social Services and the California Commission on Asian and Pacific Islander American)