Controversial Surveillance Bill Gets Re-Authorized by US Government Behind Closed Doors

368912557_2fc44d3709_b

Section 702 of the Foreign Intelligences Surveillance Act (FISA) includes provisions that could allow the United States government the power to view emails and other communications of American citizens without warrant. The bill, which was set to expire at the end of the year, was re-approved behind closed doors by the Senate Intelligence Committee and has reauthorized Section 702 for another 8 years. According to the American Civil Liberties Association, this would codify many practices that are currently illegal.

The problematic provisions include searching for people in the US, collecting domestic communications, and more. However, it lacks many reforms which would put an end to the illegal surveillance practices being carried out by the National Security Agency (NSA). There is also a severe lack of transparency surrounding the entire process, shedding more suspicion on the bill.

More importantly, this bill cements the so-called ‘backdoor search loophole,’ which allows the government to search for information on individuals in the US without a warrant. Proponents of the loophole argue that requiring a warrant every time the government accesses information on Americans would negatively impact counter-terrorism efforts. Nevertheless, the question arises whether these efforts justify the violation of the constitutional rights of American citizens.

Under the Fourth Amendment of the United States Constitution, American citizens have the right “to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures.” The same amendments also established the requirement for warrants when searches are conducted which are to be issued based on “probable cause.” Section 702 of FISA seemingly violates the Fourth Amendment and no efforts have so far been made to amend this encroachment.

The secretive nature of the voting process did not bode well with many and calls into question the existing privacy rights that American citizens are entitled to. Reauthorizing Section 702 would allow the government to strip citizens of their constitutional rights. Specifically, this bill facilitates the targeting of government critics, activists, journalists, and communities of colour that challenge the Trump administration. Going forward, this could prove harmful to many people as it jeopardizes the rights of people to privacy and freedom from unreasonable intrusions by the government.

This blog post was written by a CCLA-PBSC RightsWatch student. Views expressed do not necessarily reflect the view of the CCLA or PBSC.