Simplified Privacy

Public Backlash Forces Extension on US Surveillance Decision

Today was supposed to be a pivotal moment where the US surveillance programs (that allow warrantless wiretapping) would either be reformed or expanded. Dual competing versions of the new bills were supposed to be voted on today in Congress with only one moving forward. Instead surprisingly, due to public backlash, the Speaker of the House decided to pull both versions of the bills from being voted on, and moved to extend the status quo. Now it’s going to the Senate for a vote on if the renewal will pass. Meaning that the reform bill is likely dead, but so is the expansion of power.

Update 2 days later: The FISA Section 702 did pass with the Defense Budget

Brief Overview:

1) Section 702 of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) allows for collection of data on Americans interacting with foreigners for supposed security purpose.

2) Section 702 has been proven to be abused by the FBI with many American-to-American communications being run through the program. [1] [2] This is technically illegal for the FBI to do, but no genuine enforcement action has been taken.

3) Because of the rampant abuse, some want to reform the program. In an attempt to stop genuine reform, other congressional leaders have pushed forward a competing bill that’s labeled “reform”, but actually greatly expands to program’s powers to include a vague definition of anyone operating electronics equipment. According to Elizabeth Goitein, the Co-director of the Liberty and National Security Program at the Brennan Center for Justice, “Hotels, libraries, coffee shops, and other places that offer wifi to their customers could be forced to serve as surrogate spies. They could be required to configure their systems to ensure that they can provide the government access to entire streams of communications” [3]

4) One of the two versions of the bill was supposed to voted on today (Dec 12, 2023) so it could advance before the deadline of expiration on FISA’s powers.

5) Because of public backlash, the Speaker of the House, Mike Johnson, has decided to NOT have a vote between the two competing versions of the bill and instead push forward a temporary “4-month renewal” of essentially the status quo. However, some critics of this point out that this could extend it up to a full year by the time the reform bills would be meaningfully voted on. [4]

Update 2 days later: The FISA Section 702 did pass with the Defense Budget

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Sources:

[1]

Yahoo News

FBI Made ‘Inappropriate Use’ of Foreign Surveillance Program To Spy on Americans

https://news.yahoo.com/fbi-made-inappropriate-foreign-surveillance-202028510.html

[2]

Reason Magazine

FBI misused foreign surveillance

[3]

Liza Goitein, Public Twitter/X

https://nitter.net/LizaGoitein/status/1734249943932563505#m

[4]

Prospect

Mike Johnson NDAA Surveillance Reform

https://prospect.org/civil-rights/2023-12-12-mike-johnson-ndaa-surveillance-reform/

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