Congressional Discussion On Section 702 Renewal Postponed Until 2018

from the good-news[?] dept

It appears we won't be seeing any action on Section 702 until next year. The authority was supposed to sunset at the end of 2017, but legislators have yet to reach an agreement on any modifications or reforms.

As 2017 comes to a close, Congress, still divided over how (or whether) to limit federal surveillance authorities, has kicked the can down the road to at least January 19.

As part of a continuing resolution to keep the federal government running for a few more weeks, Congress extended the deadline to decide what to do about Section 702 of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) Amendments.

This is probably the best solution for now. While there have been some serious efforts made to reform Section 702, none of those efforts have been allowed to reach the floor for a vote. Instead, both the House and Senate Oversight Committees have offered up horrible zero-reform bills as "official" 702 remixes -- both of which expand government agency access to NSA data stores and push the next sunset as far away as 2025.

Going into the final days of the year with no reform package, the suspicion was legislators would append one of the two terrible bills as a rider to the annual must-pass budget bill, thus circumventing any real debate about the NSA's controversial collections.

With the pressure off (temporarily) -- thanks to the passed resolution -- there may be a chance for actual legislative discussion about the oft-abused programs. If talks are productive enough, we may see these powers pruned a bit before being reauthorized. (There is zero chance of a total sunset, even though sunset provisions are put in place to provide for eventual retirement of collection authorities.) Given the new administration's obvious approval of anything remotely connected to the War on Terror, it's going to be difficult to enact significant reforms, no matter when they're finally discussed. No matter what happens in 2018, we can at least be grateful Congress didn't auction off the general public's interests in favor of ensuring government agencies continue to get paid.

It's important to remember none of this would be happening without Edward Snowden. The documents he leaked pushed the Intelligence Community towards more transparency, resulting in the release of FISA court opinions and Inspector General's reports showing widespread abuse/misuse of Section 702 collections by the NSA. Without the leaks, it's unlikely the NSA would be any more transparent than it was back when it was referred to as No Such Agency. Our government's dragnet surveillance operations would still be cloaked in impenetrable darkness and its abuses of power its own dirty little secret.

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