Section 702 of the FISA Amendments Act

January 28, 2018
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Section 702 of the FISA Amendments Act of 2008 (H.R.6304) should be amended when it expires in December of 2017. The topic of government surveillance in the recent years has been a hot topic for a variety of reasons. Many argue that the mass surveillance of American people is unjustified and wrong overall. One such act that caused much controversy was the now former Patriot Act of 2001. This act allowed for unsanctioned and unwarranted access to metadata shared by all citizens unknowingly. When attention was brought to this act, many at first defended it's “terrorist plot” thwarting abilities. However, this came at the cost of not only the basic rights of privacy but also the fourth amendment itself. After a long back and forth, the bill was allowed to expire nearly 15 years later. Later the USA Freedom Act would replace what was thought to be justified by the former Patriot Act.


Today most turn a blind eye toward the idea of government surveillance. What most lack to realize is that there is a just as sinister act, or rather section of that act in place today. The bill itself overall was created to obtain foreign intelligence and most of it reflects that. However, the good intentions are once again turned against the American people. Deep within this, seemingly harmless Bill is section 702. Said section permits the government to, “Section 702 of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) authorizes the warrantless collection, use, and dissemination by the U.S. government of communications content and metadata” (“Section 702 of:” 1). Warrantless collection of metadata belonging to not just the foreigners targeted, but the Americans “accidentally” involved with them as well. Warrantless collection of American data. Data that is in theory protected by that of the fourth amendment that states, “The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no Warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by Oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized” (US Const. amend. IV, sec. 1). Collection of data that is unreasonable and without probable cause, as this bill does, is transparently unconstitutional. Privacy, once again threatened by what some call the “backdoor search loophole.” A loophole that has no bias and runs just as carelessly as the former Patriot Act. For a secure and private future, Section 702 of the FISA Amendments Act of 2008 (H.R.6304) should be amended because of the risks for the rights of citizens, public interests, internet freedom.

 

Privacy in today’s world is something to be truly taken seriously. People should not be treated as a statistic that the government can choose from. People should not be read like a book and then accused of coincidental private information. Human beings do not share everything in their lives for a reason—it is private information. The government lacks to understand this rather simple principle. It seems like each year there is something shady going on behind the scenes. One day it is a scandal, the next it is something like section 702. Bills these days are created to give the impression that the “Big Brother” monitoring us is only there to uphold a structured future and watch out for terrorists—their favorite excuse. In my life, I personally value the idea of privacy highly. No matter how charismatic, someone may be, when they all return home for the night, they are all private people—with private information. Private people like myself. In the modern world, this is especially frightening to me as I interact with the internet, make calls weekly to loved ones, and have conversations that I would prefer the government kept their prying eyes away from. Even while doing research for this breach of rights I am more convinced than ever that this act of Congress is unconstitutional. The only justification for collecting this data under 702 is that there must be a “significant” purpose—one the government could make up with ease. If the government is constantly monitoring me, how am I supposed to trust anything the government does? How can I be sure there isn’t something devious attached to any bill that goes into effect? After two distinct threats to our privacy via bills labeled for “terrorism prevention” or “foreign intelligence,” and with deeper, more sinister motives, I have become completely doubtful with the government as a whole. Knowing that my life, and my families, has the potential to “accidentally” end up on some government watch list because of an exploit in legislation is something to truly fear. 


My opinions aside, the true test of this bill’s significance is the display of society’s views on government surveillance. Most concerning of all of this is that there are many Americans who are not even fully aware of the circumstances. Many Americans are outright misinformed. Lee Rainie, a writer for pewreseach.org describes various studies testing this principle of misinformation, “Many Americans struggle to understand the nature and scope of data collected from them. When it comes to their own role in managing their personal information, most adults are not sure what information is being collected or how it is being used. While half of those surveyed said they felt confident they understood how their information would be used, 47% said they were not, and many of these people felt confused, discouraged or impatient when trying to make decisions about sharing their personal information with companies” (1). Nearly half of Americans surveyed are not fully aware of the situation at hand. Turning the blind eye like this allows the government to slide by with broken bills. In the same article, Raine brings up another significant statistic, “Overall, Americans are divided when it comes to their level of concern about surveillance programs. In a survey conducted November 2014-January 2015, 52% described themselves as “very concerned” or “somewhat concerned” about government surveillance of Americans’ data and electronic communications, compared with 46% who described themselves as “not very concerned” or “not at all concerned” about the surveillance” (1). This comes as a result of not being informed in the first place and thus society as a whole does not value this issue. One would not be entirely incorrect to say that if more of the public was informed, this section and other corrupt legislation might not exist or perhaps would have been amended years ago. Terrifyingly, more unconstitutional bills like this are likely to pass because public interest simply is not there.


Luckily, there are such interest groups in this world to protest such unconstitutional acts. Groups like, The Center for Democracy and Technology whose goal it is to promote an open and free internet. An internet that is not looked down upon by the “Big Brother.” CDT gives a more descriptive definition of 702’s true intentions, “Section 702 of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) is a statute that authorizes the collection, use, and dissemination of electronic communications content stored by U.S. internet service providers (such as Google, Facebook, and Microsoft)” (“Section 702: What:” 1). Providers that service millions of Americans day by day, and now could just as easily be sharing information with various intelligence agencies. They continue to describe the weak grounds that it bases its justification, “Unlike “traditional” FISA surveillance, Section 702 does not require that the surveillance target be a suspected terrorist, spy, or other agent of a foreign power. Section 702 only requires that the targets be non-U.S. persons located abroad and that a “significant purpose” of the surveillance be to obtain “foreign intelligence information” (the primary purpose of the surveillance can be something else entirely)” (“Section 702: What:” 1). A very open policy on surveillance, perhaps too open. Unfortunately, for some, that “significant” purpose applies to them. The CDT openly discredited the FISA Amendments Act and is in favor of reform. They themselves have actually sent a letter similar to this to Congress that highlights various unconstitutional properties of this bill. “The undersigned civil rights, civil liberties, privacy, and government oversight organizations write to urge you to vote “no” on the reauthorization of Section 702 of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act if it is not significantly reformed. While Congress had little information on how this program worked when it last voted on this law in 2012, the new disclosures we describe below underscore the need for amendments to better protect privacy and civil liberties” (“Letter to Congress:”1). Also highlighted is the fact that when this was signed into effect, Congress did not know the full extent of its capabilities—something that should have been more carefully kept track of.


In the end, it is clear that the FISA Amendments Act of 2008 is not only a risk to our privacy, but the interests of the public and internet freedom. Section 702 of this act openly violates the constitutional rights of its citizens. It bypasses the rights of the fourth amendment and volunteer’s private information to federal agencies to be used at a later date. Worryingly enough its use has not been documented or given to the public. The CDT released an article on its web page quoting that, “Despite six years of requests from Congress and civil society, the Intelligence Community (“IC”) has refused to provide an estimate of the number of US persons whose communications are collected under Section 702. The FBI also does not report on the number of backdoor searches it conducts on Americans every year” (“Section 702: Fixing:” 1). There is no estimate of the amount of damage that this bill has done, and could do if renewed. If this act is not amended, it only proves to the government further that society will agree to anything they label for “threat” reduction. A dangerous habit that could lead to a future without the privacy we once held. In sum, the renewing of section 702 for the year of 2018 and going forward would be a blatant attack on the rights of common American citizens. 






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