Today, a coalition of 45 privacy, civil rights, and human rights organizations, led by New America’s Open Technology Institute (OTI), wrote to the Senate to urge opposition to the Senate Intelligence Committee’s bill to reauthorize Section 702 of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, the FISA Amendments Reauthorization Act of 2017 (S. 2010). Section 702 permits the government to collect the content of communications of targets who are foreigners located abroad, including communications they may have with Americans. The bill, which OTI strongly opposes, would not enact any of the meaningful and reasonable reforms that Congress has been debating for years and that many organizations within the coalition have supported. Instead, it would reauthorize Section 702 for eight years without any reform, and would, in several respects, make the law worse. As the letter notes, “in some respects, the bill represents an expansion of the government’s surveillance authorities under Section 702.”
Among other things, the bill would:
Increase the government’s surveillance authority under Section 702 by expanding what can be targeted for surveillance under Section 702 in general;
Codify “abouts” collection in a way that permits more collection of information about non-targets;
Codify the government’s illegal practice of warrantlessly searching Americans’ communications;
Inadequately limit how Section 702 collected data can be used; and
Increase criminal penalties for unauthorized removal of classified information.
The following statement can be attributed to Robyn Greene, policy counsel and government affairs lead, New America’s Open Technology Institute:“It should come as no surprise that dozens and dozens of privacy groups oppose this bill, and any Senator who is concerned about Americans’ constitutional rights should too. While the rest of Congress has been debating how to reform Section 702 to better protect Americans’ privacy, the Senate Intelligence Committee was approving a bill that would codify and expand the worst uses of the authority. Instead of requiring a warrant to search through data for Americans’ communications, this bill would write those warrantless searches into law, and instead of prohibiting the collection of communications that merely reference a target—a practice that so egregiously violates Americans’ privacy rights that the FISA Court stopped it twice—this bill would legalize and expand it.”
A chart comparing the reforms in the three bills reauthorizing Section 702 is available here.