US House Renews Bill That Allows Warrantless Surveillance of Americans

The US House voted to renew Section 702 of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA), allowing warrantless surveillance of Americans....
US House Renews Bill That Allows Warrantless Surveillance of Americans
Written by Matt Milano
  • The US House voted to renew Section 702 of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA), allowing warrantless surveillance of Americans.

    Section 702 gives US intelligence agencies the authority to monitor the communications of foreign citizens and collect any related data. Because the bill targets foreign citizens outside US borders, a warrant is not necessary. Unfortunately, American citizens’ communications and data are often swept up as part of the dragnet, especially when Americans communicate with friends, family, or business associates abroad. To make matters worse, once the communications data is collected, it remains available for years, with law enforcement able to search it without a warrant.

    The ACLU has long warned of the dangers involved in this kind of data collection:

    Once the government collects vast amounts of information — including emails, text messages and other communications — under Section 702, that content is stored in databases for years at a time. FBI, CIA, and NSA officials routinely search through this vast trove of data for information specifically about Americans, even though these communications were all collected without a warrant. Information found through these “backdoor searches” can be used to prosecute Americans for crimes, even if they are not related to national security.

    As the ACLU goes on to point out, abuses of the surveillance program have been rampant:

    The NSA admitted in 2013 that analysts, in a number of instances, improperly used surveillance databases to monitor their exes in a practice known by some as LOVEINT. Additionally, a recent opinion from the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court regarding Section 702 surveillance, revealed a significant number of other violations that raised significant Fourth Amendment concerns, and were not properly disclosed to the court. These violations were so significant that the NSA even ended some of its surveillance practices — though it could restart them at any time.

    Donald Trump had called on Republicans to kill the bill, claiming FISA had been used to illegally spy on him and his campaign. With Trump opposed to the bill, Republicans struggled to gain enough support to renew Section 702 but finally succeeded Friday.

    A major point of contention was an amendment to the bill that would have required a warrant before accessing Americans’ information. The bill ultimately passed without that amendment, meaning warrantless data collection and surveillance can continue unabated.

    Critics are warning that the renewal of Section 702 represents a major expansion of the surveillance of Americans.

    “Anti-reformers not only are refusing common-sense reforms to FISA, they’re pushing for a major expansion of warrantless spying on Americans,” US Senator Ron Wyden told WIRED. “Their amendment would force your cable guy to be a government spy and assist in monitoring Americans’ communications without a warrant.”

    “Three million Americans’ data was searched in this database of information,” said Representative Jim Jordan, chair of the House Judiciary Committee. “The FBI wasn’t even following its own rules when they conducted those searches. That’s why we need a warrant.”

    The US routinely calls out its adversaries for surveilling their citizens, with China and authoritarian regimes being popular targets. Despite trying to take the moral high ground, the critics say the US has been sliding closer to becoming a surveillance state all its own.

    For example, the FBI was recently called out for questioning individuals about posts on Facebook. With the renewal and expansion of Section 702, the door is now wide open for the continued and warrantless surveillance of Americans.

    Get the WebProNews newsletter delivered to your inbox

    Get the free daily newsletter read by decision makers

    Advertise with Us

    Ready to get started?

    Get our media kit