Surveillance reforms ignite US Congress and intelligence officials clash


Lawmakers recently clashed with US intelligence officials over proposed reforms to a surveillance program associated with Section 702 of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act.

This program, set to sunset at the end of the year, faces a tough legislative battle for its renewal or reform.

Representatives from the Justice Department and FBI argued that the history of abuses linked to Section 702 are being addressed by new reforms instituted in the last two years. However, some Judiciary Committee members contested this, pressing for more serious reforms, including a warrant requirement for accessing the sensitive intelligence data.

The Biden administration is under pressure to renew the authority without changes, arguing that not doing so could impact national security. However, lawmakers showed united opposition to a clean reauthorization. Their concerns primarily revolve around the FBI’s history of misusing incidental collection, as shown by a recently declassified court ruling.

Senate Judiciary Chair Dick Durbin said, “I will only support the reauthorization of Section 702 if there are significant, significant reforms. And that means first and foremost, addressing the warrantless surveillance of Americans in violation of the Fourth Amendment.”

Sen. Mike Lee asked, “Why should we ever trust the FBI and the DOJ again to police themselves under FISA, when they’ve shown us repeatedly, for more than a decade, that they cannot be trusted to do so?”

Justice Department’s Assistant Attorney General for National Security Matt Olsen said, “These abuses predate reforms undertaken by the agency in 2021 and 2022 and that the bureau’s policies would prevent them from recurring.”

FBI Deputy Director Paul Abbate announced a pair of new compliance measures, “The first is a three-strike policy for query-related incidents that could lead to an agent’s dismissal. The second involves evaluations that can affect performance ratings and promotions for agency leaders monitoring 702 compliance in their divisions.”

Jake Laperruque, the director of the Security and Surveillance Project at the Center for Democracy and Technology, critiqued the proposed measures saying, “The new items the FBI touted at the hearing are wholly inadequate, and out of touch with how serious these abuses are.”

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