(TFTP) While Americans were distracted by the possibility of Oprah’s 2020 presidential campaign following her speech at the Golden Globes, the United States government has ramped up its campaign to let the FBI legally spy on Americans without a warrant.
Section 702 of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) has served as the foundation for the NSA’s largest and most egregious surveillance programs for the last decade. It was set to expire on Dec. 31, but because it was last authorized by the court on April 26, 2017, for a 12-month period, lawmakers are hopeful that they can find a way to reauthorize Section 702 before it actually expires on April 26, 2018.
The first attempt to reauthorize Section 702 was through the introduction of the USA Liberty Act. As The Free Thought Project has reported, Congress claimed the bill would “better protect Americans’ privacy” by requiring the government to have “a legitimate national security purpose” before searching an individual’s database.
However, what the bill did not advertise was the fact that it did not actually address the legitimate problems that exist with Section 702. The FBI’s “legitimate national security purpose” could be justified by just about any reason the agency chooses to give, and agents would only need supervisory authority in order to search Americans’ metadata.
While many privacy experts were hopeful that if the USA Liberty Act did not pass, Section 702 would expire on Dec. 31, making it illegal for the government to collect data from innocent Americans without warrants—intelligence officials warned that would not be the case.
A spokesman for the Office of the Director of National Intelligence, Brian Hale, told the New York Times that “the government believes it can keep the program going for months,” even if it is not reauthorized.
That is exactly what is happening right now. Instead of continuing to push for the passage of the USA Liberty Act, the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence has introduced the FISA Amendments Reauthorization Act of 2017, with the intent to renew Section 702 for six years.
“Section 702 of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act authorizes the Intelligence Community to target the communications of non-U.S. persons located outside the United States for foreign intelligence purposes. A key anti-terror tool that has helped to thwart numerous terror plots including the 2009 conspiracy to bomb the New York City subway, Section 702 operations are subject to multiple layers of oversight by all three branches of government.”
However, the Intercept reported that the government is actually following a pattern of legalizing practices that they have already been carrying out, which has been ongoing for years.
Section 702 was first passed in 2008 after the George W. Bush administration’s warrantless wiretapping program was made public, “effectively to legalize what the administration was doing.” Now, the government is doing the same thing, but instead, it is seeking to legalize a loophole that lets the FBI spy on innocent Americans without a warrant.
As the report noted, the current version of Section 702 does not limit how data can be used by federal law enforcement and lets the NSA freely share information with the FBI. While the new bill requires the FBI to get a warrant before searching the data in relation to a criminal investigation, there are some major exceptions:
“The FBI doesn’t have to apply for a warrant when national security is involved, or when it determines that there is a ‘threat to life or serious bodily harm.’ And the bill would continue to allow the FBI to sift through the data even when those searches don’t involve a specific criminal investigation, which the FBI already does so often that they have compared it to searching Google.”
Rep. Justin Amash, a vocal advocate for the Fourth Amendment and critic of both the USA Liberty Act and the FISA Amendments Reauthorization Act, has worked with a bipartisan coalition to introduce a bill that counters the current legislation—the USA RIGHTS Act.
“With the expiration of #FISA702, Congress has the opportunity to reverse the government’s illegal erosion of our #4thAmendment-secured right to be free from warrantless searches and seizures,” Amash wrote on Twitter. “There’s only one bill circulating in the House that does that: the #USARIGHTSAct.”
The USA RIGHTS Act strictly limits the way intelligence officials obtain metadata from Americans. As The Washington Examiner reported, the bill is sponsored in the Senate by Sen. Ron Wyden, and it seeks to “end backdoor, warrantless searches of the vast data collected under the FISA law, and would strengthen the oversight of the FISA courts and allows outside challenges to the constitutionality of the FISA authority.”