As Congress begins discussion of Section 702, groups have united against the warrantless surveillance powers of that law, tipping debate towards its expiration.
WASHINGTON –Today Fight for the Future and a bipartisan coalition of public interest groups launched end702.com, a site calling for the expiration of Section 702 of the FISA Amendments Act of 2008, absent a full reform, in order to prevent warrantless mass surveillance of Americans. Section 702 is currently scheduled to sunset on December 31, 2017.
With Congress beginning hearings on the Section 702 program, including a Senate Judiciary hearing that was held in May, groups from the left and the right have come together in recent months to make their position clear—there can be no renewal of Sec 702 unless warrantless surveillance of Americans’ private lives is stopped. With growing skepticism across the US that Congress will be capable of passing a legitimate reform that protects the privacy and security of Americans, these groups are getting behind a sunset of the provision as the only realistic acceptable outcome.
Congress has been under pressure to address the government’s bulk collection of communications data after clandestine NSA surveillance programs, operating under the expanded definition of Section 702, were revealed by whistleblower Edward Snowden three years ago today. Now that the expiration of Section 702 is approaching, Congress will be forced to address how the provision has been used against US residents and be counted in history as either continuing unprecedented warrantless mass surveillance or finally ending the law that enables it.
“Now that we know how the government has abused the surveillance laws, Congress must start their review of Section 702 from where most Americans and organizations on the left and the right stand—the constitutional right of everyone to not be warrantlessly surveilled. If 702 in any form doesn’t meet that mark, it has no place for continuation,” said Fight for the Future co-director Tiffiniy Cheng.
Coalition members include Bill of Rights Defense Committee, Defending Dissent Foundation, Restore the Fourth, Human Rights Watch, Access Now, American Civil Liberties Union, Government Accountability Project, Calyx, Roots Action, X-Lab, Arab American Institute, Freedom of the Press Foundation, Campaign for Liberty, Niskanen Center, Fight for the Future, Demand Progress, and the Electronic Frontier Foundation.
“The government’s mass surveillance is changing the way we as a society act,” said Sean Vitka, legislative counsel with Fight for the Future. “It is changing how we think and interact with the world. We must not allow the surveillance state to continue changing who we are, and that means ensuring that the Section 702 we know today expires.”
“Since the Snowden revelations, polls and studies have shown that people care deeply about their privacy and security, have been self-censoring themselves, and have changed their behavior. As data and privacy become a business liability, and as more people are targeted for their race or religion based on this data, the government’s programs on mass surveillance are becoming so politically toxic, most members of Congress or the White House will be embarrassed for supporting it.” said Tiffiniy Cheng.
The Snowden disclosures revealed how the government has expanded the authority that Congress intended to provide in Section 702 to allow for the warrantless surveillance of millions of Americans and billions of people around the world. Under this law, intelligence agencies have collected Internet communications as they pass through the network to reach their destination without a warrant. Despite Section 702’s clear intention of allowing surveillance of persons “other than United States persons,” these agencies also claim the legal authority to search specifically for Americans within these enormous databases of information without a warrant.
For years, members of Congress and public interest groups have called for information about how deeply intelligence agencies penetrate into the private lives of Americans, and they have recently reupped their demands for more information. Intelligence agencies and the Department of Justice have not revealed how the government is using its mass surveillance powers. Without such information, the people and Congress cannot determine the benefits or the costs of the programs that the government claims are authorized under Section 702, much less determine how to fix their many problems.
Mass surveillance has already had profound negative effects on American society. Pew Research Center recently found that 30 percent of American adults have taken steps to hide their online activity from the government. Another study, published in Journalism and Mass Communications Quarterly, found that government surveillance is causing self-censorship of dissenting opinions. Further research indicates that government surveillance has caused writers to increase their self-censored and individuals to stop researching controversial issues.