Watchdog Members Divided on Changes To US Surveillance Law

Watchdog Raises Concerns Over US Spying Law

( – The Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) of 1978 is a law that governs surveillance and intelligence activities related to foreign entities operating on American soil. The act established a special court, the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court (FISC), to oversee requests for electronic surveillance and searches of foreign agents and terrorist suspects. In 2008, the legislature amended FISA by passing Section 702, authorizing intelligence and investigative agencies like the FBI to collect and analyze data to look for national security threats. Many believe the agency has overstepped in that respect, using the section to spy on US citizens. Now, the law is up for renewal, and a presidentially-appointed panel is divided on some key points.

What’s Going On?

Formed in 2007, the Privacy and Civil Liberties Oversight Board is a watchdog group consisting of five people who are experts in surveillance law. The group made dueling recommendations as to the future of FISA, including changes it would like to see when the act expires at the end of the year.

That said, bipartisan group members did not fully agree on a resolution. The panel consisted of three Democrats and two Republicans, and they had different ideas on what the best path forward for Section 702. In fact, the group came to two separate conclusions and stuck to party lines.

What Did They Say?

The majority opinion from the Left said Section 702, as it stands, runs the risk of overly broad collection of personal discussions by the government with too little review and oversight. The Democrats also said the program results in too much data surveillance that has nothing to do with national security. They made 19 recommendations that would keep the integrity of Section 702 in place while addressing the issues they saw with the program, incorporating privacy protections, FISA Court approvals, and FBI controls.

The minority report also suggested changes to the section, but they weren’t as extensive as the majority recommendations. However, those two members said they believed the majority’s suggestions would actually harm privacy interests instead of bolstering them, stating their views weren’t backed with “evidence.” Still, the entire group agreed that Section 702 was important but differed on what form Congress should renew the measure.

A White House National Security Council spokeswoman said in a statement that the White House would look over the recommendations but noted one particular addition would not work. She said the warrants are often “time-sensitive” to protect against “lethal plotting on US soil,” so a court-approval requirement was “operationally unworkable.”

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