U.S. Senate and Biden Administration Shamefully Renew and Expand FISA Section 702, Ushering in a Two Year Expansion of Unconstitutional Mass Surveillance

Deeplinks 2024-04-22


One week after it was passed by the U.S. House of Representatives, the Senate has passed what Senator Ron Wyden has called, “one of the most dramatic and terrifying expansions of government surveillance authority in history.” President Biden then rushed to sign it into law.  

The perhaps ironically named “Reforming Intelligence and Security America Act (RISAA)” does everything BUT reform Section 702 of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA). RISAA not only reauthorizes this mass surveillance program, it greatly expands the government’s authority by allowing it to compel a much larger group of people and providers into assisting with this surveillance. The bill’s only significant “compromise” is a limited, two-year extension of this mass surveillance. But overall, RISAA is a travesty for Americans who deserve basic constitutional rights and privacy whether they are communicating with people and services inside or outside of the US.

Section 702 allows the government to conduct surveillance of foreigners abroad from inside the United States. It operates, in part, through the cooperation of large telecommunications service providers: massive amounts of traffic on the Internet backbone are accessed and those communications on the government’s secret list are copied. And that’s just one part of the massive, expensive program. 

While Section 702 prohibits the NSA and FBI from intentionally targeting Americans with this mass surveillance, these agencies routinely acquire a huge amount of innocent Americans' communications “incidentally.” The government can then conduct backdoor, warrantless searches of these “incidentally collected” communications.

The government cannot even follow the very lenient rules about what it does with the massive amount of information it gathers under Section 702, repeatedly abusing this authority by searching its databases for Americans’ communications. In 2021 alone, the FBI reported conducting up to 3.4 million warrantless searches of Section 702 data using Americans’ identifiers. Given this history of abuse, it is difficult to understand how Congress could decide to expand the government’s power under Section 702 rather than rein it in.

One of RISAA’s most egregious expansions is its large but ill-defined increase of the range of entities that have to turn over information to the NSA and FBI. This provision allegedly “responds” to a 2023 decision by the FISC Court of Review, which rejected the government’s argument that an unknown company was subject to Section 702 for some circumstances. While the New York Times reports that the unknown company from this FISC opinion was a data center, this new provision is written so expansively that it potentially reaches any person or company with “access” to “equipment” on which electronic communications travel or are stored, regardless of whether they are a direct provider. This could potentially include landlords, maintenance people, and many others who routinely have access to your communications on the interconnected internet.

This is to say nothing of RISAA’s other substantial expansions. RISAA changes FISA’s definition of “foreign intelligence” to include “counternarcotics”: this will allow the government to use FISA to collect information relati



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Matthew Guariglia, Andrew Crocker, Cindy Cohn, Brendan Gilligan

Date tagged:

04/22/2024, 17:01

Date published:

04/22/2024, 16:50