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Will Congress, Trump Make Deep State Spying Permanent?

by Thomas Ressler

Elements of the Trump administration are making a push to permanently authorize Title VII of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA), which is slated to sunset at the end of 2017. One portion of Title VII, in particular, Section 702, authorizes the US intelligence community to target the communications of non-US persons located outside the country for foreign intelligence purposes. The problem is that data on an unknown number of American citizens and others living in the US wind up being collected and can be scrutinized sans a court warrant.

The government characterizes this as a key anti-terror tool, and supporters in Congress say Section 702 operations are subject to multiple layers of oversight by all three branches of government. US Attorney General Jeff Sessions and National Intelligence Director Dan Coats recently wrote senior leadership of the US Senate and House of Representatives urging prompt reauthorization. Sen. Tom Cotton, R-AR, has introduced legislation to that effect. The Judiciary Committees of both chambers of the nation’s legislature are working on measures, too.

But civil libertarians, privacy advocates, and communications technology companies such as Amazon, Google, and Facebook increasingly see Section 702 as a threat to the personal privacy of American citizens. And after the revelations by Edward Snowden, many of them say it should either be done away with entirely or at least be put on a very short leash.

Reps. Thomas Massie, R-KY, and Zoe Lofgren, D-CA, previously introduced legislative language that would have required the National Security Agency to get a probable cause warrant before sifting through the trove of communications the intelligence community acquires under Section 702. Their bill, filed as an amendment to 2014 and 2015 defense appropriations legislation, got through the House but was eliminated during negotiations between Senate and House conferees.

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