Revival of Notorious ‘Lone Wolf’ Spying on Americans’ Browsing, Biometrics?
The intelligence community and its champions on Capitol Hill are frantic, perhaps even panicked, as they see the approach of the end-of-the-year deadline for the reauthorization of Section 702 of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act. The result is a furious throw-spaghetti-at-the-wall strategy in a vain effort to get something to stick – as long as it doesn’t look like reform.
At the heart of this controversy is whether this authority – enacted by Congress to enable the surveillance of foreigners on foreign soil – should require a probable cause warrant, as mandated by Fourth Amendment, when the government examines Americans’ personal communications collected under Section 702. The White House declared that a warrant for such U.S. person queries would constitute a “red line.” It is not clear, however, if President Biden would actually follow through on his threat to veto the reauthorization of Section 702.
FBI Director Christopher Wray in prepared remarks said that having a warrant requirement would entail “profound risks,” forcing the expenditure of “scarce resources, the submission and review of a lengthy legal filing, and the passage of significant time – which, in the world of rapidly evolving threats, the government does not always have.” He is contradicted by David Aaron, former senior attorney for the Department of Justice National Security Division. Aaron wrote that a warrant requirement would be “a relatively light burden on the government.”
Beyond rhetoric, the champions of the intelligence community in Congress last Sunday tried to attach a “clean” – that is, an unchanged extension of Section 702 without reforms – into the budgetary continuing resolution. This resulted in an immediate response from leading champions of civil liberties and a determined pushback from almost thirty civil liberties organizations from left, right, and center.
When that failed, the opponents of reform pivoted and proposed attaching their extension of Section 702 in the must-pass National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA). PPSA’s Senior Policy Advisors Bob Goodlatte, former Chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, and Mark Udall, who served on the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, dispatched a letter to Members warning against this legislative legerdemain.
The threat of such an extension of Section 702 in the NDAA seems to have now receded.
Also last week, the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence released a bill disingenuously labeled a reform bill. It contains a warrant requirement limited to a narrow subset of “evidence of a crime” surveillance queries, while allowing the FBI to continue to define pretty much anything else as a matter of national security worthy of warrantless surveillance.
This leaves unclear how the FBI would meet the bill’s evidence-of-a-crime warrant standard but not a broader warrant requirement. This measure appears to be intentionally designed to be either taken out of the bill or simply ignored by the FBI in practice. As Sen. Mike Lee notes, the House Intelligence bill is “window dressing” to “expand government surveillance.” Under the House Intelligence Committee’s bill, the FBI might continue practices that led to batch queries of current and former federal government officials, journalists, political commentators, and 19,000 donors to a congressional campaign.
Another expansion in the bill is its restoration of “Lone Wolf Surveillance” authority, the suspicionless monitoring of online searches, social media usage, and increasingly unique biological traits such as facial recognition, DNA, and even analysis of body language to catch the solitary terrorist.
ACLU’s Matthew Harwood wrote in 2015 that this approach “would represent a fundamental assault on a free society. Such ‘countermeasures’ should send a shiver down your spine … The dangers to Americans in allowing government agencies to collect such intimate information in order to discover whether any of them are possible lone wolves should be obvious in terms of the destruction of privacy, among other things. The result would be both an Orwellian world and a hopeless one in safety terms.”
Drawing on data from multiple studies, Harwood wrote: “It’s already clear that none of these expensive and advanced technological ‘solutions’ will work. Totally innocent conduct (‘false positives’) will overwhelm the truly menacing.”
Expect champions of the intelligence community to continue to pull out all the stops, from backroom legislative maneuvers to more non-reform “reform” proposals. They will continue until more Americans contact their House and Senate Members and demand passage of a real reform measure, such as the Government Surveillance Reform Act – which upholds the Constitution’s requirement for a probable cause warrant for Americans’ communications, location and vehicle data, web browsing, and search records, while allowing reasonable exceptions for cybersecurity and emergency situations. Soon, the House Judiciary Committee will also be releasing a true reform bill, as well.
Let Congress know where you stand.