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US surveillance tool faces hurdles in Congress as renewal date approaches

Jul 07, 2023


A premier federal surveillance tool, initially developed in the aftermath of 9/11, is facing hurdles in Congress amid an ongoing dispute between Republicans and the FBI. The tool, authorized under Section 702 of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, has held support from both political parties but is approaching a deadline for renewal.

Section 702 is a key provision of the FISA Amendments Act of 2008 that permits the government to conduct targeted surveillance of foreign persons located outside the United States.

The government says it uses the information collected to protect the U.S. and its allies from hostile foreign adversaries, including terrorists, proliferators, and spies, and to inform cybersecurity efforts.

First enacted into law by President Bush in 2008, the provision has been renewed multiple times by Congress with modifications to its limitations. This despite consistent opposition from civil rights organizations, who have long argued that it could be exploited to monitor ordinary Americans.

The public was more receptive to surveillance of activity outside of the U.S. a decade after the attacks on Sept. 11, 2001. That attitude had shifted significantly by the 20th anniversary of the attacks in 2021.

In a recent poll conducted by The Associated Press, 48% of Americans said they believed it necessary to sacrifice their rights and freedoms to prevent terrorism. That number is down from 54% in 2021 and nearly two-thirds in 2011. That decrease was especially dramatic among Republicans, with just 44% saying that it is sometimes necessary compared with 69% in 2011. Among Democrats, 55% still say it is necessary, similar to the 59% who said so in 2011.

The continuing decline in Republican support comes at a time when the FBI is investigating former President Trump over his handling of classified documents.

With Section 702 set to expire in December, leaders of both parties have warned the Biden administration that Congress will not renew the law without changes to prevent federal agents from freely searching the email, phone and other electronic records of Americans in touch with surveilled foreigners.

Republicans have accused the government of weaponizing its powers against conservatives and ordinary Americans.

“There’s no way we’re going to be for reauthorizing that in its current form — no possible way,” Rep. Jim Jordan, R-Ohio, said. Jordan, a key ally of Trump, is leading a special House investigation into the weaponization of government against conservatives.

“We’re concerned about surveillance, period,” Jordan said.

Meanwhile The New York Times reports that Jason Crow, a Democrat from Colorado who is part of the Intelligence Committee’s Section 702 working group, said they have been “very clear with the administration that there is not going to be a clean reauthorization — there’s no path to that.”

According to an analysis conducted by the APM Research Lab, public support for the FBI has dwindled.

Only 4% of Republicans said they “just about always” trust the FBI to do what is right compared to 17% of Democrats. The data further found only 7% of Democrats indicate that they “hardly ever” trust the FBI to do what is right, compared with 30% of independents and 32% of Republicans.

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