Last week, we suggested that the last days of November could prove decisive for reform of Section 702 of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA).
Now word has broken that Congressional leadership is contemplating bypassing Congressional debate by attaching Section 702 to the must-pass National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA), which keeps the military afloat, alight, and on its feet. We are hearing that some wish to attach a version authored by the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence (HPSCI), a bill that has at best weak, cosmetic reforms of this authority.
Such a move would arm-twist a bicameral, bipartisan majority that wants substantive reforms in Section 702. This majority exists because Section 702 is a program enacted by Congress to surveil foreigners on foreign soil but has been used by the FBI and other agencies as a domestic spying program. In a recent year, Section 702 has been used to warrantlessly capture the communications of 3.4 million Americans. If House and Senate leaders choose this path, it will force Members into an up-or-down vote on a critical bill, with limited debate and no opportunity to make last-minute amendments.
In a letter to Congressional Republicans, former House Judiciary Committee Chairman Bob Goodlatte and PPSA Senior Policy Advisor laid out what’s so wrong with HPSCI’s approach:
“There is no reason to rush this process and give the Administration what it wants by sneaking HPSCI’s deeply flawed proposal into the NDAA,” Goodlatte wrote. “In fact, the current Section 702 FISA Court certification does not expire until April 10, 2024, which means Congress has several months to put together a package of real reforms that could justify extending Section 702.”
Attaching Section 702 to the NDAA would derail the work of the House Judiciary Committee, which shares jurisdiction over intelligence programs with HPSCI. The House Judiciary Committee is well down the path of drafting a bill. Extending the NDAA would be a sign of significant disrespect for this committee and all the Members, left and right, who have shown a strong interest in debating this program.
“Instead of jamming Members and daring them to oppose the NDAA, Leadership should proceed through regular order and let the House Judiciary Committee lead the way with its bipartisan surveillance reform efforts, drawing inspiration from the Government Surveillance Reform Act of 2023,” Goodlatte wrote. “This issue is far too important to turn it into a game of political chicken in the NDAA.”
PPSA Joins Coalition in Statement Urging Senator Schumer to Keep Reauthorization of Section 702 Out of Continuing Resolution
PPSA joins more than 20 civil society organizations in opposing the inclusion of Section 702 reauthorization in the continuing resolution.
Late last week, word began to circulate that the Senate majority is considering including Section 702 of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act in a Continuing Resolution (CR). On Monday morning, a broad coalition of civil liberties groups – left, right and center – sent a letter to Majority Leader Chuck Schumer urging him and the Senate not to include Section 702 in the CR or any must-pass legislation.
Bob Goodlatte, PPSA Senior Policy Advisor and former Chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, explained why PPSA joined in this effort in a media statement. Goodlatte said:
“We’ve seen how short-term extensions have a habit of becoming long-term. Extending Section 702 in the CR risks a clean reauthorization of Section 702 with no reforms.
“If that happens, expect the FBI to get back to business as usual. Expect warrantless FBI surveillance of Members of Congress and Americans exercising their First Amendment rights to continue. Including Section 702 in the CR would also cut reform off at the knees. It would short-circuit bipartisan reformers in the House and Senate, including critical legislative efforts by the House Judiciary Committee and by dozens of Senators and House Members who’ve worked in good faith to balance national security with our constitutional rights.
“Upending these reform efforts would not only lead to a new wave of abuses under Section 702 or other parts of FISA – it would also enable federal agencies to increasingly surveil Americans by accessing our most sensitive personal data, scraped from apps, and sold to the government by shadowy data brokers.
“For all these reasons, it would be a terrible mistake to include Section 702 in a CR or any other must-pass legislation.”
The Project for Privacy and Surveillance Accountability joined with more than a dozen civil liberties organizations in an open letter warning Congress about the dangers of the Restrict Act, which would give the Secretary of Commerce sweeping powers over virtually all information technology.
“The scope of the act is enormous,” the coalition letter reads, “and may allow the administrative state to issue regulations affecting telecommunications, cryptocurrencies, press freedoms, and the use of and access to the Internet itself.”
The bill would create criminal penalties that carry up to 20 years in prison and up to $1 million in fines, as well as civil asset forfeitures.
If enacted, the Restrict Act would necessitate and likely authorize even more domestic spying on Americans than currently occurs, while cracking down on lawful speech. It is a recipe for an American surveillance state.