AG Sessions, DOJ Ask Congressional Leaders For A Clean, Forever Re-Authorization Of Section 702

from the also:-mandate-that-people-like-us dept

The DOJ and Attorney General Jeff Sessions have offered up their official plea for a clean reauthorization of Section 702 surveillance powers. These are due to expire at the end of the year, but so far there's been no concerted effort to subject it to greater restrictions -- at least nothing as cohesive as the opposition to Section 215 renewal that began shortly after the Snowden leaks started.

Unlike Section 215 phone records collections, the Section 702 collections at least appear to be somewhat useful in harvesting communications relevant to national security efforts. But these collections should be subjected to even greater scrutiny because of what they contain: communications. While the NSA may have ended its supremely vague "about" email collection program (which harvested emails talking about targets/keywords, along with those to and from actual targets), it appears to only have done so because it couldn't make it stop harvesting US persons' communications.

But none of that is mentioned in the Attorney General's letter to Congressional leaders. Instead, the request asks not only for a "clean" reauthorization, but a "forever" one as well.

We are writing to urge that the Congress promptly reauthorize, in clean and permanent form, Title VII of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA), enacted by the FISA Amendments Act of 2008 (FAA), which is set to sunset at the end of this year.

Title VII of FISA allows the Intelligence Community, under a robust regime of oversight by all three branches of Government, to collect vital information about international terrorists, cyber actors, individuals and entities engaged in the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction and other important foreign intelligence targets located outside the United States. Reauthorizing this critical authority is the top legislative priority of the Department of Justice and the Intelligence Community. As publicly reported by the Privacy and Civil Liberties Oversight Board, information collected under one particular section of FAA, Section 702, produces significant foreign intelligence that is vital to protect the nation against international terrorism and other threats.

Whether or not the collections produce useful intel is beside the point. Congress very definitely should not remove the periodic renewal period for surveillance powers. Doing so would subject the powers to even less oversight. A periodic review period allows Congress to take recent events into account when determining how much surveillance power the government should have going forward. It also permits examination by fresh sets of eyes, some of which won't have been fully assimilated into the "national security above all else" way of thinking.

The reasons Congress shouldn't grant a clean, in-perpetuity re-auth are the very reasons Sessions wants Congress to never examine Section 702 collections again. The DOJ refers to a "comprehensive regime of oversight" in its letter, but that phrase greatly overstates the quality of surveillance oversight that's been provided over the past 15 years.

Given the administration's view -- along with the views of most of the party in power -- Sessions may get what he wants. If nothing else, he's relatively assured of walking away with a clean reauthorization -- barring the leak of any damning NATSEC documents between now and the end of the year. It may turn out the only reform effort put in place will be the NSA's voluntary ditching of the "about" collection.

Filed Under: jeff sessions, nsa, section 702, surveillance

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  1. icon
    Anonymous Anonymous Coward (profile), 13 Sep 2017 @ 6:33am


    I wouldn't say he is out of touch with reality. I would say he is drooling over the exercise in power he now gets to participate in. I suspect he has special counselors who work with him to keep him from drooling in public. I also suspect that he drools so much in private that his bed sheets need to be changed two or three times per night.

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