The Trump administration is urgently lobbying Congress to reauthorize Section 702 of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, which allows the National Security Agency to collect the electronic communications of foreigners living abroad. Before he was fired, FBI Director James B. Comey told the Senate Judiciary Committee that losing Section 702 would be "disastrous." But Congress should not simply rubber-stamp the law as it exists. Rather, Section 702 should be fine-tuned to afford greater privacy protections for Americans. Because even though residents of this country aren't the targets of Section 702's elaborate electronic dragnet, their emails, phone calls and Internet chats can be caught up in it incidentally -- for example, when a foreign "target" is emailing or talking on the phone to an American living in the U.S. Section 702 is the direct descendant of the warrantless electronic surveillance program instituted by the George W. Bush administration after Sept. 11, 2001, that caused a sensation when its existence was exposed by the New York Times in 2005.
NEW YORK/WASHINGTON – A federal appeals court on Tuesday revived a Wikipedia lawsuit that challenges a U.S. National Security Agency program of mass online surveillance, and claims that the government unconstitutionally invades people's privacy rights. By a 3-0 vote, the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Richmond, Virginia, said the Wikimedia Foundation, which hosts the Wikipedia online encyclopedia, had a legal right to challenge the government's Upstream surveillance program. The decision could make it easier for people to learn whether authorities have spied on them through Upstream, which involves bulk searches of international communications within the internet's backbone of cables, switches and routers. Upstream's existence was revealed in leaks by former NSA contractor Edward Snowden in 2013. Lawyers for the Wikipedia publisher and eight other plaintiffs including Amnesty International USA and Human Rights Watch, with more than 1 trillion international communications annually, argued that the surveillance violated their rights to privacy, free expression and association.
Adm. Mike Rogers, who heads the NSA. US intelligence agencies have violated federal surveillance laws hundreds of times over the past decade, a painstaking analysis of declassified reviews, opinions, and documents has shown. New research by the Open Tech Institute has found over 200 violations by the NSA and the FBI since the introduction of a controversial surveillance provision designed to collect foreign intelligence. Violations include over-collecting data, violating attorney-client privilege, and conducting unlawful surveillance of Americans, who are generally protected from spying under the constitution. The research is the first comprehensive, compiled list of violations of the provision, known as section 702 of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA), which is designed to collect data on foreign persons overseas, but also incidentally collects a large amount of data on Americans.
The National Security Agency has enjoyed relatively broad authority to monitor communications among suspected terrorists and their associates, even when those people happen to be American citizens and even without a warrant. However, The New York Times reports the NSA is stopping one of its most controversial practices: the collection of Americans' international emails and text messages that mention a foreigner under surveillance. The NSA is attempting to adhere to a 2011 ruling by the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court. The court found this "about the target" collection program violated the Fourth Amendment because some internet companies packaged and processed emails in bundles -- meaning if one message contained a foreign target's email address, the entire group was swept up. The NSA was intercepting domestic communications, resulting in illegal searches.
Congress should limit the ability of the FBI and other agencies to search for information about U.S. residents in a database of foreign terrorism communications collected by the National Security Agency, privacy advocates say. The Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) Amendments Act, which allows the NSA to collect foreign Internet communications, expires in late 2017, and Congress should require that the communications of U.S. residents swept up in the controversial Prism and Upstream programs be protected with court-ordered warrants, privacy advocates told a Senate committee Tuesday. The FBI can search the NSA database and look for information about U.S. residents without getting a court order. It's time for those searches to be limited, with a court-ordered warrant required before they happen, said Elizabeth Goitein, co-director of the Liberty and National Security Program in the Brennan Center for Justice at the New York University School of Law. The amount of information collected by the NSA about U.S. residents "has exploded," and violates their Fourth Amendment rights against unreasonable searches and seizures, Goitein told the Senate Judiciary Committee.