Bigger, bolder: U.S. slaps sanctions on spyware company and executives

Coalition warns Congress: don’t use legislative tricks to reauthorize surveillance abuse

Update: November 21, 2023 — In response to reports that the Biden administration may be seeking to include reauthorization of Section 702 of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) in the National Defense Reauthorization Act (NDAA), Access Now joined 32 civil society organizations in urging Congressional leaders to oppose including a Section 702 reauthorization in the NDAA and categorically reject any such efforts

Over the weekend of November 11, news broke that U.S. Senate leaders plan to reauthorize Section 702 of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) by including it in a must-pass government funding bill that Congress will vote on this week. Access Now joined 20 civil society organizations urging Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) to keep any such provision out of the legislation. 

As a recent report from the Privacy and Civil Liberties Oversight Board details, Section 702 has been routinely abused in ways that violate Americans’ fundamental civil liberties and civil rights. 

FBI agents have used this surveillance authority, which is supposed to be targeted at non-U.S. citizens located outside the United States, to gain warrantless access to the communications of Americans. This includes tens of thousands of protesters, racial justice activists, 19,000 donors to a congressional campaign, journalists, and members of the U.S. Congress. Even after the FBI’s recent changes to its internal procedures, the abuses have continued, with agents conducting warrantless searches for the communications of a U.S. senator, a state senator, and a state court judge who contacted the FBI to report civil rights violations by a local police chief. NSA agents, for their part, have abused the authority to search for the communications of online dating prospects and potential tenants.

Reauthorizing this deeply flawed spying program by slipping it into a must-pass bill, with little to no debate, would send a clear signal that Congressional leaders have complete disregard for civil liberties. Congress cannot renew these dangerous provisions unless there are significant reforms to protect people’s rights. Michael De Dora, U.S. Policy and Advocacy Manager at Access Now

Access Now has previously called for various reforms to Section 702, many of which are included in the recently proposed Government Surveillance Reform Act. In the absence of such reforms, Access Now recommends Congress allow Section 702 to expire. Section 702 surveillance will continue without congressional action into April 2024. Any extension would allow the government to obtain new year-long Section 702 certifications at the beginning of the year, potentially enabling the perpetuation of current privacy abuses into 2025.

Under the auspices of Section 702, U.S. intelligence agencies have systematically executed hundreds of thousands of warrantless backdoor searches, violating Americans’ private communications, including sensitive emails, text messages, and emails. The record of abuse is glaringly apparent. We need urgent reforms, not a blank check renewal of unwarranted intrusions into our privacy. Willmary Escoto, U.S. Policy Counsel at Access Now

You can read the full coalition letter here