A Chance to Control Domestic Spying

Cross-posted from The New Republic.

In his first year in office, Donald Trump has achieved the seemingly impossible: By variously criticizing Barack Obama’s surveillance practices and promising to ramp up his own, he has managed to galvanize a bipartisan movement in Congress to curb the warrantless surveillance of Americans. If the effort succeeds, it could represent the most significant reform of U.S. surveillance practices in decades.

At issue is Section 702 of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA), which is set to expire in December. The Trump administration argues that Section 702 is a crucial counterterrorism tool and insists that Congress renew it without alteration. But many Democrats and an increasing number of Republicans are concerned about the law’s potential for abuse, and are calling for changes to better protect Americans’ privacy. “Congress must reauthorize this critical national security tool—but not without reforms,” says Robert Goodlatte, the chairman of the House Judiciary Committee.

Section 702 was enacted in 2008 to legalize George W. Bush’s warrantless wiretapping program. It allows the National Security Agency to collect the communications of any foreigner overseas—including communications with Americans—without a warrant. The foreigner need not be suspected of wrongdoing; although the government must be seeking “foreign intelligence,” the law’s broad definition of this term provides little constraint. A special court known as the FISA Court provides oversight, but its powers are limited—for example, it has no authority to review the government’s choice of surveillance targets.

Read the full article at The New Republic.