U.S. Senate must stop the biggest expansion of surveillance power in 20 years

U.S. Senate must stop the biggest expansion of surveillance power in 20 years

Ahead of an expected U.S. Senate vote this week that would not only reauthorize but expand the spying law Section 702 of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA), Access Now and more than 70 civil society organizations are urging Senate leaders to stop what would be the largest expansion of state surveillance powers since the PATRIOT Act more than 20 years ago. At the minimum, the coalition calls for the removal of a provision that would compel businesses from — laundromats to land surveyors — to turn over data to U.S. intelligence agencies. 

Enacted into law in 2008, Section 702 permits the U.S. government to conduct targeted surveillance of foreign persons located outside the country and to compel tech companies like Google and Verizon to turn over the data of non-American citizens. However, multiple reports have found that Section 702 has been routinely abused in ways that violate citizens’ fundamental civil liberties.

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

The reauthorization bill currently being considered — the Reforming Intelligence and Securing America Act (RISAA) — was passed by the House of Representatives last week. While Section 702 technically has an end date of April 19, 2024, the U.S. government already received an extension for the surveillance authority until 2025. Yet the Senate is expected to vote on RISAA as early as this week. 

Recklessly expanding the authority of the U.S. government’s deeply flawed spying program under the pretenses of a phony deadline would send a clear signal that the Senate has complete disregard for civil liberties. Where the House failed, the Senate must now do right by their constituents by opposing this dangerous provision and adopting reforms to protect peoples’ constitutional rights. Ben Grazda, U.S. Campaigner at Access Now

Access Now has called for and supported various reforms to Section 702, including most recently to close the loophole that allows the U.S. government to circumvent the Fourth Amendment and to require a warrant when U.S. persons are in question.