Americans Deserve More Accountability from Our Government
For the first time since Edward Snowden’s disclosures of government surveillance programs, Congress faces a momentous decision on this internal spying on Americans.
It will decide whether to renew its authorization for Section 702 of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act. Americans need and deserve a real debate over how their data is collected and used. And unless Congress slows down and holds the intelligence community’s feet to the fire, Americans aren’t going to get that debate.
Boiled down, Section 702 authorizes the collection of communications data from non-Americans abroad. But while ostensibly limiting surveillance to foreign targets not subject to American constitutional protections, intelligence and law enforcement agencies have for years been able to circumvent the Fourth Amendment and gather communications of Americans without a warrant.
At the very least, Section 702 should be reformed in a way that upholds the constitutional rights of American citizens and ensures greater accountability for how surveillance is conducted. To that end, several proposals have been offered to reauthorize Section 702, packaged with reforms either further empowering the intelligence community or protecting the constitutional rights of Americans.
The worst is a Senate reauthorization bill through which the U.S. attorney general would actually gain the explicit power to use Section 702 data for domestic prosecution free from judicial review. The chief proponent of the bill, Senate Intelligence Committee Chairman Richard Burr, R-N.C., is attempting to insert the bill into the larger omnibus bill that must be passed by the end of the year, rather than have a standalone vote.
According to The Hill, Burr has explicitly rejected any requirement that investigators obtain a warrant before accessing the communications of Americans collected under Section 702. This dismissal of the Constitution should not be allowed to proceed.
In contrast, Sens. Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., Mike Lee, R-Utah, Ron Wyden, D-Ore. and Rand Paul, R-Ky., have drafted far better legislation, known as the USA Rights Act, which would close several loopholes, including “reverse targeting” through which foreign targets are subject to surveillance in order to gather collection on Americans without a warrant.
Civil liberties advocates right, left and center are doing their best to push the matter closer to the center of public consciousness, but political conditions are unfavorable. Intelligence collection is arcane, secretive, and yes, important to national security. And with so many more high-profile issues swirling around Washington, both superficial and substantive, FISA places low on the scale for many voters.
While that might make it possible for politicians to ram Section 702 reauthorization through with little formal debate, we urge members of both parties to resist. The American people deserve an open and thorough debate on Section 702 and government surveillance powers generally.
If Americans are going to renew sweeping restrictions on their privacy, they should do so in the knowledge that they’re getting something important out of the bargain. Our government has failed that test and violated our trust. Section 702 should not be renewed without greater accountability and protections for Americans.
-- LOS ANGELES DAILY NEWS