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House Passes Bill to Ramp Up Section 702 Surveillance Powers

House Passes Bill to Ramp Up Section 702 Surveillance Powers

Apr 15, 2024

House Passes Bill to Ramp Up Section 702 Surveillance Powers

The U.S. House of Representatives passed a bill reauthorizing Section 702 of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA), which has sparked significant controversy and concern among privacy advocates and some lawmakers. The reauthorization bill contains provisions that could lead to a substantial increase in domestic surveillance activities.

Senator Ron Wyden, a long-standing advocate for privacy rights, described the bill as "one of the most dramatic and terrifying expansions of government surveillance authority in history." In a series of tweets, Senator Wyden vowed to oppose the bill in the Senate, stating, "I will do everything in my power to stop it from passing in the Senate."

The bill, referred to as the RISAA, has provisions that would require "electronic communications service providers" to assist the National Security Agency (NSA) in conducting surveillance. Privacy expert Elizabeth Goitein highlighted the concerns via X (Twitter), explaining that the new power could enable the NSA to copy and retain entire communications streams, including those that are domestic in nature.

Goitein pointed out that the NSA would operate on an "honor system" to filter and keep only communications involving approved foreign targets. She expressed skepticism about the NSA's adherence to this system and warned about the potential for abuse. Goitein also criticized the broad and vague language used in drafting the amendment, suggesting that it was intentionally written to obscure the true intent of the provision.

In response to defenders of the bill, such as Representative Jim Himes, who dismissed concerns as "bombastic absurdities," Goitein urged the Senate to take action to either amend or reject the bill. She also disputed the urgency implied by the White House, noting that the administration has already secured FISA Court approval to continue Section 702 surveillance until April 2025, effectively providing a grace period even if the current law were to expire.

The Senate is scheduled to vote on the House-passed bill, with privacy advocates and some senators calling for careful consideration and potential removal of the controversial provision. The outcome of this vote will have significant implications for individual privacy rights in the United States.

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