Today, the House voted to reauthorize Section 702 of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) of 1978, which is set to expire next week. None of the suggested reforms were adopted. Currently the FISA surveillance is conducted under a single warrant issued each year by the FISA court for a list of foreign intelligence targets. But law enforcement can access, and use, Americans’ communications swept up in FISA surveillance without getting a warrant — the so-called “backdoor loophole” — even though the Constitution clearly requires a specific warrant for accessing or using the communications of U.S. persons’ communications.
“House leadership blocked reform by presenting a false choice between straight-up reauthorization and the most radical reforms,” said Ashkhen Kazaryan, Legal Fellow at TechFreedom. “There has been broad, bipartisan support for the Poe-Lofgren amendment for years, but the House Rules Committee refused to allow a floor vote on that moderate compromise proposal. Instead, the Committee allowed a vote only on Rep. Amash’s amendment, knowing it would fail — so House leadership could pretend it was open to reform. While neither amendments would have stopped law enforcement from continuing to surveil genuine national security threats, the Amash amendment would have closed the backdoor loophole entirely and added additional checks and balances to the surveillance process.”
Earlier this week, TechFreedom joined a diverse coalition of civil liberties organizations and public interest groups urging the House to close this loophole by requiring a warrant based on probable cause for any search of information about U.S. citizens and residents.
“Now it’s up to the Senate to do what the House should have: ensure that Section 702 protects the constitutional rights of Americans,” concluded Kazaryan. “Failure to reform Section 702 would be a loss for the Constitution, economy and democracy.”
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We can be reached for comment at firstname.lastname@example.org. See our work on privacy and surveillance, including:
- Coalition letter opposing the amended version H.R. 4479 (HPSCI bill)
- Coalition letter supporting reforming Section 702
- Tech Policy Podcast #210: Watching the Watchmen: Surveillance in 2017… and Beyond
- Tech Policy Podcast #173: NSA Checks Itself?
- Tech Policy Podcast #161: Spying on the World
- Live Roundtable at Learn Liberty on Section 702 with guests from ACLU, R Street and the Naval Academy
- Our statement on a letter from 30 tech companies urging Section 702 reform