OTI Strongly Opposes Senate Intelligence Committee’s Bill to Expand and Reauthorize Section 702

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On Tuesday, the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence debated the FISA Amendments Reauthorization Act of 2017 (S. 2010) behind closed doors. The bill would reauthorize Section 702 of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, which is set to expire at the end of the year. The Committee approved the bill, which would extend the authority until December 31, 2025, with a  vote of 12-3. In addition to extending Section 702 without incorporating any meaningful reforms, the bill would alter the law in ways that would further harm Americans’ privacy, including by:

  • Expanding what can be targeted under Section 702 to include a “facility, place, premises, or property,” which goes far beyond what the plain language of the law currently allows;

  • Codifying “abouts” collection where the government collects communications that merely reference, or are “about,” their target, in addition to those that are to or from the target;

  • Allowing the government to begin unintentionally collecting “abouts” communications even if the intentional collection of those communications is not permitted by the FISA Court;

  • Codifying the so-called “backdoor search loophole,” where the government warrantlessly searches Section 702 data for Americans’ communications; and

  • Permitting Section 702 data that is warrantlessly searched to be used in any investigation or administrative proceeding, and to be introduced as evidence in a wide array of prosecutions, including many that are unrelated to an authorized purpose of collection under Section 702.

The following statement can be attributed to Robyn Greene, policy counsel and government affairs lead at New America’s Open Technology Institute:

“It’s clear that the Senate Intelligence Committee debated its bill behind closed doors because they knew it wouldn’t stand up to public scrutiny. While everyone else in Congress is debating how to reform Section 702 surveillance authorities, the intelligence committee reported out a bill that would not only codify warrantless searches and “abouts” collection, it would expand the surveillance authority as well. It would make Section 702 worse for Americans’ privacy and civil liberties than it is now.”