Phone records surveillance, emails and communications to be re authorised under FISA Section 702. This was decided (without warrant) in order to collect detail on foreigners. The House of Representatives voted to extend and expand Section 702.

It came to light in 2013 that millions of electronic communications and phone records were being legally collected by the National Security Agency . Asides from phone records this included the collection of emails, browser history and social media messages. Congress has now taken the decision to enhance these invasive techniques. The initiatives were first brought to light by Edward Snowden and were due to expire. Congress had voted against reforms to Section 72 but, instead, surveillance of foreigners and US citizens is to be expanded. The authority will see section 702 endure for a further six years. This goes well beyond Trump’s first term.

The proposed amendment thrown out by the House of Representatives would have safeguarded US citizens personal communications. Intelligence agencies would have required a warrant to carry out phone records surveillance and the collection of social media records and email. The bill that congress has passed endorses more troubling aspects of FISA Section 702 put forward by privacy advocates. Legislation has still to pass senate but where less representatives are motivated to reform of the law. The National Security Agency collates millions of instant messages, video chats, social media interaction. Phone records surveillance is a seamless process in light of corporates such as Google, AT&T and Facebook being compelled to relinquish these records to the NSA.

The NSA database can also be trawled by the FBI without a need for a warrant. This is put forward as a back door to the 4th amendment (Senator Ron Wyden (DEM)). Technically while the law confers authority to collect data on foreign individuals, permanent residents and nationals can easily be covered by the net. American citizens who communicate and interact with foreigners may well be included. An example appears to be that of Michael Flynn and his communication with Sergey Kislyak. The findings came about through routine surveillance of the former Russian ambassador.

Some see the re authorisation as an incentive to search earlier when such issues as phone records surveillance is less and less justified. Prior to this most recent bill some gains had been made to the FISA 702 Reform bill. April saw the NSA halted the “about” collection surveillance model authorised under section 702. This relied on communication involving foreign targets but not directly from the target’s alone. For example if two individual’s were to discuss a terrorist’s email address e.g. as part of a text, this could be drawn in to the NSA database despite the subject’s not being of interest (intelligence) themselves. This program was stopped due to information belonging to US residents being accidentally collected.

The re authorized bill also re opens the door in respect of ‘about’ collections. However within emergency scenarios and situations but what constitutes “emergency” is not specified. This, therefore, leaves room for broader interpretation. Should revised legislation allow resumption experts say the implementation is much broader. No more than the mention of a target could ensnare. Not only does the reauthorization endorse the harvesting of data with a target reference but also merely the reference to same. If the NSA has identified a group of special interest, for example ‘PKK’, and two individuals discuss the PKK in an email the government has authority to collect it.

The bill imposes a warrant requirement on the FBI but the inference appears to dilute privacy protection as opposed to strengthening it. The FBI require a warrant to search the database (Section 702) at such a time that a criminal investigation is already underway but not when it involves national security. Essentially a database query on no more than a tip.  Debate prior to Thursday’s vote was mired in secrecy. The public along with lawmakers had not been afforded detailed information as to how the Section 702 program would operate and, importantly, the effectiveness.A representative of the ACLU legislative council stated “There’s a lot of inaccuracies that are put out about it. These enormous mischaracterizations are put out,”

Prior to the vote, the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence, circulated a flyer deemed as fear-mongering saying privacy protection (S:702) would render law enforcement impotent should a hypothetical ‘suspicious’ vehicle park in the area of the Washington Monument. The rhetoric and hyperbole around the bill appeared to stump Trump as he later appears to have contradicted his own party’s position on S:702 no more than hours prior to the vote. The President’s tweet falsely implied the law had given intelligence the legal authority to spy on his campaign. This arrived no more than a day following Hope Hicks (Press Secretary) statement in support of the law.

 

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