Between taxes, threatened government shutdowns, DACA, and the general instability of our president, it is hard to truly keep up with the news these days. Things that would normally make the front page of any newspaper or website, such as upcoming legislation or confirmed judicial nominees, are relegated to less prominent and noticeable spaces.
The reauthorization of Section 702 is one of those stories that has fallen by the wayside. Section 702, which is set to expire on Dec. 31, allows communication collection of foreign targets. While the program only looks to gather information about non-U.S. citizens, American citizens are sometimes caught up in the collection. The FBI can ‘unmask’ who those Americans are in communications by obtaining different permissions requirements, depending on which department is involved. (If you remember the drama with Susan Rice about whether or not she was targeting Trump transition officials by ‘unmasking’ them, this is the process they were referring to.)
Currently, Section 702 is being debated in the House, where it has encountered some weird bedfellows. Both Democrats and Libertarians are raising concerns about the potential ease with which officials can unmask American citizens caught in collected correspondence. Originally, the intent was to pass it as a piece of the government spending legislation, but the tepid support in the House seems to suggest that they may try to pass it as a stand-alone bill.
As it stands, lawmakers are still debating different versions of the bill that will pacify both critics and supporters of the bill. Supporters, such as the National Security apparatuses, want Congress to make the legislation permanent. Critics are arguing for the necessity of a warrant before any Americans are unmasked. There’s also talk of limiting which criminal cases can make use of this collected information.
As with most issues in Congress, it is unclear how this is going to pan out. But, cyber security should be a concern for all Americans. Our government has a responsibility to keep us safe. They also have a responsibility to respect our right to privacy. With the expansion of the internet and other technologies, this right continues to be in peril with the collection of big data and mass surveillance. DemandProgress.com is leading the fight to spread the word and hold members of the House accountable for their votes. Visit their website to learn more.
If you’re interested in easy ways to help protect yourself from data collection, check out our recommendations here.