Man proposes, God disposes, but Congress often just kicks the can down the road.
Throughout 2023, PPSA and our civil liberties allies made the case that Section 702 of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act – enacted by Congress to give federal intelligence agencies the authority to surveil foreign threats abroad – has become a convenient excuse for warrantless domestic surveillance of millions of Americans in recent years.
With Section 702 set to expire, the debate over reauthorizing this authority necessarily involves reforms and fixes to a law that functions in a radically different way than its Congressional authors imagined.
In December, a strong bipartisan majority in the House Judiciary Committee passed a well-crafted bill to reauthorize FISA Section 702 – the Protect Liberty and End Warrantless Surveillance Act. This bill mandates a robust warrant requirement for U.S. person searches. It curtails the common government surveillance technique of “reverse targeting,” which uses Section 702 to work backwards to target Americans without a warrant. It also closes the loophole that allows government agencies to buy access to Americans’ most sensitive and personal information scraped from our apps and sold by data brokers.
And the Protect Liberty Act requires the inclusion of lawyers with high-level clearances who are experts in civil liberties to ensure the secret FISA Court hears from them as well as from government attorneys.
The FISA Reform and Reauthorization Act from the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence would not stop the widespread practice of backdoor searches of Americans’ information. And it does not address the outrageous practice of federal agencies buying up Americans’ most sensitive and private information from data brokers.
In the crush of business, the deadline for reauthorizing Section 702 was delayed until early spring. Now the contest between the two approaches to Section 702 reauthorization begins in earnest.
With a recent FreedomWorks/Demand Progress poll showing that 78 percent of Americans support strengthening privacy protections along the lines of those in the Protect Liberty Act, reformers go into the year with a strong tailwind. While we should never underestimate the guile of the intelligence community, reformers look to the debate ahead with hopefulness and eagerness to win this debate to protect the privacy of all Americans.