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Congress Facing Time Crunch to Reauthorize Surveillance Programs

by Countable | 12.1.17

Among Congress’ several end-of-the-year legislative priorities is the reauthorization of Section 702 of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) — which lets intelligence agencies collect the electronic communications of non-U.S. persons outside the U.S. and is set to expire on December 31, 2017.

The reauthorization of Section 702 pits the need of intelligence agencies to access the program’s expansive database against the desire of civil libertarians to protect the privacy of Americans whose communications are "incidentally collected" by the surveillance. This contrast has led to the introduction of several bills that reauthorize the program for various lengths of time, with differing reforms attached. Here’s a look at some of the proposals:

USA LIBERTY Act - Rep. Bob Goodlatte (R-VA)

  • Six-year reauthorization of Section 702.

  • Codifies the existing ban on the collection of communications "about" a target.

  • Requires a court order to search the Section 702 database.

  • Law enforcement and intelligence agencies could only query the database after getting a court order.

  • Passed the House Judiciary Committee on a 27-8 vote.

  • 13 cosponsors (seven Republicans and six Democrats).

FISA Amendments Reauthorization Act - Sen. Richard Burr (R-NC)

  • Eight-year reauthorization of Section 702.

  • Codifies the existing ban on the collection of communications "about" a target, but creates an exemption allowing the Attorney General and Director of National Intelligence (DNI) to propose resuming it with Congress’ approval.

  • Information from the Section 702 database could only be used in court proceedings related to national security investigations.

  • Any Section 702 query that returns information on a U.S. person would be reported to the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court within one day, which would review the query for compliance with the Constitution’s Fourth Amendment.

  • Passed the Senate Intelligence Committee on a 12-3 vote.

USA RIGHTS Act - Sen. Ron Wyden (D-OR)

  • Four-year reauthorization of Section 702.

  • Codifies the existing ban on the collection of communication "about" a target.

  • Prohibits "back door searches" and “reverse targeting” by requiring a warrant for any query of the Section 702 database for communications by Americans or people inside the U.S.

  • Opinions by the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court that involve significant interpretations of law or statutory language would have to be declassified.

  • 14 cosponsors (Nine Democrats, four Republicans, and one Independent).

Tell your reps what you think of these proposals and the reauthorization of Section 702 using the Take Action button, then share your thoughts in the comments below.

— Eric Revell

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(Photo Credit: gorodenkoff / iStock)

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