Today at 4pm the House Rules Committee is scheduled to vote on a modified version of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) Amendments Reauthorization Act of 2017 (H.R. 4478; base bill; manager’s amendment). The bill may come to the floor for a vote in the House of Representatives as soon as tonight or tomorrow. New America’s Open Technology Institute (OTI) strongly opposed this bill when it was considered by the House Intelligence Committee, and continues to strongly oppose it in its modified form. The bill would reauthorize Section 702 of FISA for four years without making any meaningful reforms. In some respects, the FISA Amendment Reauthorization Act would also make the law worse, and could be read to expand the NSA’s surveillance authority under Section 702. The version of the bill that will be voted on by the House of Representatives would:
Make NO meaningful reforms to protect Americans’ privacy.
Codify “abouts” collection and potentially expand it to allow the government to collect communications that merely reference a target, such as mentioning a target’s name, but that do not contain a target’s “selector” such as a phone number or email address. The FISA Court has forced the government to shut down “abouts” collection twice, most recently because the government consistently failed to comply with mandatory minimization procedures to protect Americans’ privacy.
Codify warrantless “backdoor" searches for Americans’ communications.
The following statement can be attributed to Robyn Greene, policy counsel and government affairs lead, New America’s Open Technology Institute:
“Congressional leadership is trying to sell this bill as a reform measure, but anyone who has actually read the bill isn’t buying it. This bill was written by and for the intelligence community, not the American people. It doesn’t include any meaningful new protections for Americans’ privacy, and if it passes, it risks actually expanding the NSA’s surveillance authority and would give Congress’ seal of approval to the intelligence community’s worst practices, like backdoor searches and “abouts” collection. Representatives should oppose this bill and demand the chance to vote on a bill that, at the very least, does no harm.”
The following statement can be attributed to Kevin Bankston, director, New America’s Open Technology Institute:
“Americans should be appalled at Congress’ abdication of its oversight duties by not only failing to make meaningful reforms, but also by potentially broadening government's surveillance authority at a time when granting new power to the Executive is more dangerous than it’s ever been. In the years since Edward Snowden first disclosed the scale of NSA surveillance under Section 702, Americans and people all over the world have been talking about how to rein in NSA surveillance. Instead, the House is voting on a measure that would not just fail to offer any meaningful additional privacy protections, it would also potentially grant expanded surveillance authorities to the government.”
OTI joined a coalition letter to Congress signed by 32 strongly opposing this bill and urging a “no” vote. That letter is available here. Additionally, OTI’s backgrounder on the modified bill is available here.