The word from Capitol Hill is that Speaker Mike Johnson is scheduling a likely House vote on the reauthorization of FISA’s Section 702 this week. We are told that proponents and opponents of surveillance reform will each have an opportunity to vote on amendments to this statute.
It is hard to overstate how important this upcoming vote is for our privacy and the protection of a free society under the law. The outcome may embed warrant requirements in this authority, or it may greatly expand the surveillance powers of the government over the American people.
Section 702 enables the U.S. intelligence community to continue to keep a watchful eye on spies, terrorists, and other foreign threats to the American homeland. Every reasonable person wants that, which is why Congress enacted this authority to allow the government to surveil foreign threats in foreign lands. Section 702 authority was never intended to become what it has become: a way to conduct massive domestic surveillance of the American people.
Government agencies – with the FBI in the lead – have used this powerful, invasive authority to exploit a backdoor search loophole for millions of warrantless searches of Americans’ data in recent years. In 2021, the secret Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court revealed that such backdoor searches are used by the FBI to pursue purely domestic crimes. Since then, declassified court opinions and compliance reports reveal that the FBI used Section 702 to examine the data of a House Member, a U.S. Senator, a state judge, journalists, political commentators, 19,000 donors to a political campaign, and to conduct baseless searches of protesters on both the left and the right. NSA agents have used it to investigate prospective and possible romantic partners on dating apps.
Any reauthorization of Section 702 must include warrants – with reasonable exceptions for emergency circumstances – before the data of Americans collected under Section 702 or any other search can be queried, as required by the U.S. Constitution.
This warrant requirement must include the searching of commercially acquired information, as well as data from Americans’ communications incidentally caught up in the global communications net of Section 702.
The FBI, IRS, Department of Homeland Security, the Pentagon, and other agencies routinely buy Americans’ most personal, sensitive information, scraped from our apps and sold to the government by data brokers. This practice is not authorized by any statute, or subject to any judicial review. Including a warrant requirement for commercially acquired information as well as Section 702 data is critical, otherwise the closing of the backdoor search loophole will merely be replaced by the data broker loophole.
If the House declines to impose warrants for domestic surveillance, expect many politically targeted groups to have their privacy and constitutional rights compromised. We cannot miss the best chance we’ll have in a generation to protect the Constitution and what remains of Americans’ privacy.
Copy and paste the message below and click here to find your U.S. Representative and deliver it:
“Please stand up for my privacy and the Fourth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution: Vote to reform FISA’s Section 702 with warrant requirements, both for Section 702 data and for our sensitive, personal information sold to government agencies by data brokers.”