A bipartisan bill has been introduced by Sen. Ron Wyden (D-OR) and Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY) along with a coalition of Democrats and Republicans that would reform FISA Section 702 to “protect Americans’ security and liberties, reduce secret law and focus the spy program on foreign threats.”
The FISA reforms would end warrantless backdoor searches of Americans’ calls, emails, texts and other communications that the government regularly collects under a program designed to spy on foreign targets.
The bill also limits intelligence agencies to search a foreign suspect’s communications that they alone send or receive, requires the government to notify people when they’re being prosecuted using information that came only from Section 702 spying, and lastly, requires the government to provide an estimate of the number of individuals who have their information collected under Section 702.
Rep. Justin Amash (R-MI), a constant ally of civil libertarians in the House, said: “Unlike the other proposals recently offered in the House and Senate, the USA RIGHTS Act makes substantial reforms that seek to meaningfully mitigate the risk Americans will have their privacy violated.”
FISA, the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, has been criticized for allowing warrantless surveillance of conversations between people in the US and in foreign countries. Most alarmingly, the government then saves all that information and uses it to pursue them for crimes unrelated to national security.
FISA was passed during the George W. Bush Administration and was kept in place by Obama Administration officials. This time around there is a chance that Section 702 won’t be reauthorized without substantive reforms.
The House has twice passed legislation defunding warrantless “backdoor” searches, but the bills died in the Senate. Now, however, because of the sunset provision of the law, the pro-702 officials in the Trump Administration do not have as much leverage.
Since they do not have the votes in the House and a bipartisan group of Senators is now looking for reform, FISA section 702 may have the same fate as Section 215 of the Patriot Act. If officials refuse to go along with these reforms, they could lose Section 702 entirely.