Section 702 Legislative Analysis

Congress faces a deadline of December 31, when the main authority for NSA’s mass surveillance programs, Section 702 of the FISA Amendments Act of 2008, expires. This provision retroactively legalized President Bush’s illegal mass surveillance, with few limitations. Three bills have been introduced to renew and reform this authority in varying degrees.
  1. The Senate Intelligence Committee leadership’s “FISA Amendments Reauthorization Act” would renew Section 702 for eight years, explicitly codifies the use of intelligence data for domestic surveillance and to investigate domestic crimes unrelated to terrorism, and is being debated in secret.
    • RECOMMENDATION: KILL IT WITH FIRE
  2. The House Judiciary Committee leadership’s “USA Liberty Act” would improve the administration of the FISA Court but would renew Section 702 for 5.5 years without fixing the FBI backdoor searches problem, where the FBI uses searches of NSA data to get around the Fourth Amendment’s warrant requirement.
    • RECOMMENDATION: ALSO KILL WITH FIRE
  3. Now we come to the only realistic proposal on the table that would actually go a long way to fix the problems with Section 702 surveillance: Sen. Wyden’s and Sen. Paul’s just-introduced “USA RIGHTS Act.” It has also been introduced in the House by Rep. Zoe Lofgren (D-CA), Rep. Ted Poe (R-TX) and Rep. Beto O’Rourke (D-TX).

Whistleblower Reality Winner Needs Your Help

You can tell a government is terrified when they punish people who reveal the truth.

NSA contractor Reality Winner was arrested just over a month ago, for leaking to The Intercept internal NSA documents showing what NSA believed to be Russian military intelligence efforts to penetrate US voting systems. She is being held without bail, and charged with offenses carrying a maximum penalty of 10 years in jail and $250,000 in fines.

The law she is being charged under, the “Espionage Act”, is a repressive WWI-era law that criminalizes leaks irrespective of whether they are to the press or a foreign power. The Nixon administration used it to prosecute Daniel Ellsberg for releasing the Pentagon Papers, that revealed that the American public and Congress had been lied to about the Vietnam War. Since the advent of the digital age, under President Obama, the increased ease of leaking secret documents led to the revival of the Espionage Act as a tool to intimidate `insider threats.’ Chelsea Manning was convicted under the Espionage Act, and her sentence was commuted after six long years. Edward Snowden was indicted under the Espionage Act four years ago for revealing perhaps the greatest violation of our 4th Amendment rights, and remains a fugitive. Julian Assange, if extradited to the US, would likely be indicted under the same law.

The Espionage Act, originally intended to protect against foreign spies and their aides, has become a tool for the deep state to crack down on anything that might embarrass it. We don’t believe that keeping our newly digitized secrets requires terrorizing government employees into silence; instead, it requires running a clean and transparent government that refrains from criminality, and protects whistleblowing as a crucial internal corrective.

 

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