Ignoring Widespread Public Support for Section 702 Reform, House Passes Bill that Could Expand Law

Press Release
Jan. 11, 2018

Today, by a vote of 256-164, the House of Representatives passed the FISA Amendments Reauthorization Act of 2017 (S. 139), to reauthorize Section 702 of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act for six years. New America’s Open Technology Institute (OTI), as part of a 44 group coalition, strongly opposes the bill because it would make no meaningful reforms to protect Americans’ privacy, and codifies two of the government’s most concerning practices: backdoor searches and “abouts” collection. The bill could also be read by the government to expand the NSA’s authority to collect “abouts” communications, by allowing it to unintentionally collect “abouts” communications even where their intentional collection is not permitted, and to allow the collection of communications that merely reference a Section 702 target with a keyword (ex. a name), but do not contain their “selector” (ex. a phone number or email address).

The House also rejected a motion, by a vote of 189-227, that would have made minor improvements to the bill. While the warrant requirement would have still been subject to broad exceptions, it would have been expanded to apply at all stages of FBI investigations, instead of only at the later “predicated” stage, as is the case in the bill that passed.

Previously, by a vote of 183-233, the House also rejected an amendment to substitute the text of the underlying bill with that of the USA Rights Act, which OTI, along with 43 other organizations supported. The USA Rights Act would have provided for robust reforms, including ending warrantless searches through Section 702 data for Americans’ communications, a practice called backdoor searches, and prohibiting “abouts” collection.  

The following quote can be attributed to Robyn Greene, Policy Counsel and Government Affairs Lead, New America’s Open Technology Institute:

“Today, the People’s House did a terrible disservice to the American people. After everything we’ve learned over the last four years about how privacy-invasive Section 702 surveillance is, it is appalling that the House just voted to reauthorize it without any actual reforms. Instead of meaningfully protecting Americans against warrantless searches of their communications, the House codified these backdoor searches. And instead of prohibiting “abouts” collection, a practice that is so privacy-invasive the FISA Court shut it down twice, the House codified and may have even expanded this tactic.

The intelligence committee wrote a bill that bestows expanded surveillance authorities upon the NSA and FBI, and the House passed it and called it reform. This bill is worse than a clean reauthorization with a sunset and the Senate should reject this bill and demand real reform.”

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