The law allowing the U.S. government to collect emails and other information non-U.S. persons on foreign soil was extended this week in Congress as the House of Representatives passed legislation Thursday morning that continues government surveillance and information collection allowed under Section 702 of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act for another six years.
The programs were set to expire on December 31, 2017, but Congress passed a short-term extension as part of a continuing resolution to fund the government before leaving Capitol Hill for the end-of-year holidays. With lawmakers back in Washington, the focus turned to the House Intelligence Committee’s bill, the FISA Amendments Reauthorization Act of 2017.
Section 702 has been a controversial topic and one that intelligence communities say is crucial to national security and counterterrorism but privacy advocates argue constitutes government overreach and invasion of privacy. Among the concerns, they say, is the fact that the 702 database may contain communications involving Americans who have contacted foreign targets that were acquired by the government without first getting an individualized warrant. The House Intelligence Committee’s bill would have required that the government obtain a warrant to search the 702 database, but only if it plans to use the information in prosecuting a criminal case. Privacy advocates say this doesn’t go far enough. They wanted to see the USA Rights Act, an amendment that privacy advocates and opponents of the House bill are pushing that would require government warrants before it looked in the 702 database for any information at all about Americans in criminal cases, passed in conjunction with the legislation to extend the program, as it would have replaced some of the language in the House’s bill with which privacy advocates disagreed.
What potential effect will this have on the U.S. government’s ability to surveil foreign targets? Do you think the Section 702 programs are necessary for national security or an example of invasion of privacy and government overreach?
Robyn Greene, policy counsel and government affairs lead for the Open Technology Institute at New America (formerly New America Foundation), a nonpartisan think tank based in Washington D.C.; she tweets @Robyn_Greene
Asha Rangappa, senior lecturer at the Jackson Institute for Global Affairs at Yale University; she is a former FBI Special Agent specializing in counterintelligence investigations; she tweets @AshaRangappa_