Civil Liberties Concern Prompted by House Sergeant-at-Arms’s New Capitol Access ID Plan

Civil Liberties Concern Prompted by House Sergeant-at-Arms’s New Capitol Access ID Plan
Barbed wire is installed on the top of a security fence surrounding the U.S. Capitol in Washington on Jan. 15, 2021. (Saul Loeb/AFP via Getty Images)
Mark Tapscott

Members of Congress are concerned that House Sergeant-at-Arms William Walker’s proposal for sophisticated new electronic identification programs to monitor and control who can enter any part of the U.S. Capitol complex could become a civil liberties nightmare.

“We must ensure we are protecting the rights of citizens to petition their elected officials, and legislative activities guaranteed by the Constitution. I have serious concerns that implementing a system that would potentially track the movements of members, visitors, staff, and the press would have a chilling effect on how Congress operates,” Rep. Rodney Davis (R-Ill.) told The Epoch Times.

“Additionally, any changes to security processes should be done in a way that engages with both chambers, and members from both parties. In recent years, we have seen politics enter into far too many security decisions, and the results are never good. I hope this doesn’t become the latest example.”

Davis is the top Republican member of the House Committee on Administration, which would have oversight authority over the proposed system if it becomes a reality.

Walker told members of a House Appropriations Committee panel on Jan. 11 that the purpose of the proposed system is to increase security in the wake of the Jan. 6, 2021, breach of the U.S. Capitol.

“Working in collaboration with this subcommittee and the Capitol Police Board, I would like to institute a Capitol Access Verification Entry System (CAVES) program. The system would ensure Members of Congress and the USCP [United States Capitol Police] know exactly who is entering the Capitol Complex, and for how long,” Walker told the Subcommittee on the Legislative Branch.

“CAVES would be a security model based on a strict identity verification process. Having a secure ID with the proper electronic devices and software to validate highly secure government identification is an essential starting point for the CAVES system,” Walker told the appropriations sub-panel.

Walker’s proposal comes amid growing concerns across the Capitol about reports that Capitol Police are mounting an intensive intelligence monitoring effort aimed at accumulating massive amounts of information on every individual entering the complex, regardless of their purpose.

Walker didn’t respond by press time to The Epoch Times’ request for comment, nor did House Administration Committee Chairwoman Zoe Lofgren (D-Calif.).

The monitoring was begun last year following the events of Jan. 6.

Rep. Kelly Armstrong (R-N.D.), a member of the House Ethics Committee, and six House GOP colleagues wrote a lengthy Jan. 25 letter of protest to Walker, as well as USCP Chief Thomas Manger, Architect of the Capitol J. Brett Blanton, and Senate Sergeant-at-Arms and Doorkeeper Karen Gibson.

In their letter, the seven House members said they have “grave concern regarding reports that the Capitol Police Board has directed the United States Capitol Police (USCP) to conduct background checks and other forms of intelligence gathering on Members of Congress, staff, contractors, visitors to the Capitol Complex, and attendees participating in off-campus and district-based events.”

The Capitol Police Board, which includes all four of those receiving the letter, directly oversees the USCP operations.

“A decision to expand background checks and intelligence-gathering to a previously un-surveilled group of individuals constitutes a dramatic and troubling expansion of the USCP’s authority,” the seven Republicans wrote.

The letter also said Walker is implementing an “‘insider threat awareness program’ ... in coordination with the Intelligence Community (IC), Department of Homeland Security (DHS), and the [FBI] to identify ‘employees who lose their compass’ and individuals whose ’allegiance has changed.'”

A working group and initial training efforts are in place for CAVES and the insider awareness initiative. At least one person in every congressional office is to be trained to identify suspicious behavior among colleagues that may indicate a potential threat to Capitol Hill security.

In addition to Armstrong and Davis, signers include Rep. Jim Banks (R-Ind.), Rep. Jim Jordan (R-Ohio), Rep. Barry Loudermilk (R-Ga.), Rep. Trey Nehls (R-Texas), and Rep. Brian Stiel (R-Wis.).

Jordan is the top GOP member of the House Judiciary Committee, while Banks is chairman of the House Republican Study Committee (RSC).

Armstrong also tweeted on the issue, citing a Politico story that was first to report the monitoring, saying: “This is dangerously close, if not already over the line, to spying on members of Congress, their staff, their constituents, and their supporters. The American people deserve answers on who authorized this, and why it’s happening.”

Civil liberties concerns about Walker’s proposal also are being voiced among liberal and conservative advocacy groups.

Daniel Schuman, policy director for Demand Progress and Demand Progress Education Fund, told supporters in a Jan. 18 message that “the Sergeant At Arms’ proposal to track staff, journalists, and visitors to the Capitol would undermine the ability of Congress to do its job, and distract away from the imperative of reforming the dysfunctional Capitol Police Board, while failing to address any of the fundamental problems made apparent by the Trump insurrection. It is fundamentally anti-democratic, dangerous, and counter productive.”
Rick Manning, president of Americans for Limited Government, told his supporters in a Jan. 28 message: “This is warrantless surveillance. There are no criminal allegations being investigated; it’s a fishing expedition in violation of the Fourth Amendment. It also violates the First Amendment right to peacefully petition members of Congress by creating a chilling effect on Congressional staff, advocacy groups, and even personal friends of members.”
Mark Tapscott is an award-winning senior Congressional correspondent for The Epoch Times. He covers Congress, national politics, and policy. Mr. Tapscott previously worked for Washington Times, Washington Examiner, Montgomery Journal, and Daily Caller News Foundation.
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