WASHINGTON, DC — Today, Senators Ron Wyden (D-OR) and Rand Paul (R-KY) introduced key legislation aimed at protecting American citizens whose data is gathered inadvertently under Section 702 of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA). Reps. Zoe Lofgren, (D-CA), Ted Poe, (R-TX)  and Rep. Beto O’Rourke (D-TX), introduced companion legislation in the House. If passed, the USA RIGHTS Act of 2017 would be the biggest win for privacy and transparency since the USA Freedom Act of 2015.

The USA RIGHTS Act’s reforms are critical to protecting the civil liberties and privacy of Americans,” said Ashkhen Kazaryan, Legal Fellow at TechFreedom. “There is broad, bipartisan support in both chambers for the bill’s reforms, including a fix to the backdoor ‘loophole,’ an end to ‘about collection,’ strengthening oversight by the Privacy and Civil Liberties Board (PCLOB), and adding crucial transparency and reporting requirements. Congress is on the right path to finding the right balance between national security and civil liberties.”

“The bill’s major reform is closing the ‘backdoor loophole’ by which the FBI and local law enforcement can query the database built under Section 702, including communications of Americans connected with foreign targets — essentially using foreign intelligence for domestic investigations,” explained Kazaryan. “The USA RIGHTS Act requires government agencies to get warrants for such queries.”

Other key provisions of the bill include “sunsetting” Section 702 so Congress can revisit and reevaluate foreign intelligence surveillance needs, requiring “amicus” representation — alternative viewpoints that will help the Foreign Intelligence Court balance competing interests — and codifying the end of “about collection” — a practice that even the NSA conceded violated Americans’ constitutional rights.

Since Section 702 is a key piece of legal authority behind government surveillance activities, any hearing on its reauthorization should be public whenever possible. Last week a diverse coalition of groups, including TechFreedom, urged the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence to hold a hearing before the markup on the 702 bill publicly.

Section 702 is set to expire at the end of December, forcing Congress to reassess the program. A similar act with surveillance reforms has been introduced in the House of Representatives by Representatives Bob Goodlatte (R-VA) and John Conyers, Jr. (D-MI). See our press release on it here.


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