House Vote Leaves In Place Dangerous Spy Program that Often Targets Americans

FISA 702 Reauthorization without Reform is a Travesty and an Attack on the Civil Liberties of All Americans, says Lisa Rosenberg, OTG’s Executive Director

WASHINGTON – Open The Government’s Executive Director Lisa Rosenberg condemned today’s vote (233-183) to reauthorize and expand Section 702 of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA), and views it as a direct assault on Americans’ Fourth Amendment protections and privacy rights.

“This is an Orwellian step towards a permanent surveillance state and all Americans should be deeply concerned,” said Open The Government Executive Director Lisa Rosenberg. “In its current form, Section 702 is a bait and switch, where we are told it is meant to only track foreign threats, but has been secretly turned into a warrantless domestic dragnet.”

Today, the House voted on the FISA Amendments Reauthorization Act of 2017 (S.139), a bill proposed by the Intelligence Committee that will not only extend the government’s vast surveillance powers for another 6 years, but also explicitly gives the FBI permission to sift through the data collected, including the communications of U.S. persons, without a warrant.

Under Section 702, the National Security Agency collects vast amounts of internet and telephone communications of non-Americans. However, in the process they also sweep up huge amounts of data about Americans by capturing phone calls, email exchanges, text messages, and social media postings. The government continues to shield information on the impact of Section 702 spying, including any estimate of the number of Americans swept up in the surveillance programs authorized under the law.

The Federal Bureau of Investigation has broad access to search the 702 database without a warrant and to access information on Americans that can be shared with domestic law enforcement and used to prosecute defendants in criminal cases. The domestic agencies then use a technique known as “parallel construction” to conceal where they originally obtained the information. This means they avoid disclosing to defendants the fact that information from a warrantless surveillance program was used during a criminal investigation, creating the very type of arbitrary search that the Fourth Amendment is meant to protect against.

We thank our privacy and civil liberties champions in the House who proposed and voted on amendments that would rein in the worst abuses of 702, including shutting down that “backdoor loophole” that the FBI has been exploiting for years. One amendment, whose main sponsor is Rep. Amash (R- MI), would stop the FBI from digging through the massive 702 databases for information about U.S. persons without a warrant.

Many organizations in the OTG coalition are working tirelessly to push for reforms to Section 702 to ensure transparency and accountability for this expansive government surveillance authority. If passed by the Senate will further erode our constitutional rights of privacy. It’s important to stand our ground against the continued erosion of our constitutional rights, and ensure meaningful reforms to Section 702 that reinstate essential Fourth Amendment protections.

For more on Section 702 from OTG and our partners, see:

OTG and the Charles Koch Institute (op-ed): How to Balance Civil Liberties with Safety

Electronic Frontier Foundation (online petition): Pull the Plug on Internet Spying Programs

Demand Progress (online petition): Tell your House Rep to protect your privacy online from government snooping under Section 702.

Defending Rights and Dissent (online petition): Demand Accountability at the NSA!

R Street (op-ed): Granting NSA permanent bulk surveillance authority would be a mistake

Open The Government is an inclusive, nonpartisan coalition that works to strengthen our democracy and empower the public by advancing policies that create a more open, accountable, and responsive government.