Congress extends controversial spy program through 2024
3 mins read

Congress extends controversial spy program through 2024

Privacy advocates fear that threats to citizen privacy will continue.

In late 2023, President Joe Biden approved Congress’ 2024 defense bill, allocating $886 billion for various purposes. Additionally, the bill discreetly extended a debated federal surveillance program.

The National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) for 2024 featured a continuation of Section 702 within the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA). Originally established in 1978 to oversee foreign intelligence surveillance, Section 702, added in 2008, permits the federal government to monitor the communications of foreigners abroad without needing a warrant. Moreover, it enables the collection of data on Americans communicating with these foreign “targets.” The gathered data is then stored indefinitely for potential future investigations.

President Biden expressed gratitude to Congress for extending Title VII of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act in a White House statement. He also conveyed his Administration’s anticipation of collaborating with Congress to reauthor this crucial national security authority in the upcoming year.

The representatives have indicated that a reform bill is being developed for the 2024 session. Advocates, while hopeful for positive changes, express concerns about the slow pace of decision-making within the Biden Administration. They fear that the ongoing privacy threats posed by the Act may persist.

Various groups express valid concerns about extending Section 702 of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA). They point to a history of surveillance abuses by federal agencies and admissions from federal actors themselves. FBI Director Christopher Wray acknowledged misuse of FISA’s powers during a House Homeland Security hearing, leading to the implementation of more restrained policies.

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Elizabeth Goitein, senior director of the Brennan Center for Justice’s Liberty and National Security program, warns that abuses and civil liberties violations may persist without reform. She emphasizes the urgent need for change, given the unacceptable rate of such occurrences. However, Wray, political commentators, and politicians from different parties advocate for retaining Section 702, highlighting its effectiveness against foreign threats and previous efforts to modernize it.

Critics argue that the program is an unconstitutional exercise of government power, disproportionately affecting specific groups, including communities of color. Recent revelations of the FBI misusing Section 702 to investigate Black Lives Matter protesters, congressional campaigns, and Capitol riot participants fuel these concerns.

Section 702 originated from FISA’s role in President George W. Bush’s post-9/11 War on Terror, and its history raises questions about its necessity and potential for abuse. Critics also draw attention to other domestic surveillance tactics using location data to arrest and prosecute citizens participating in protests, leading to privacy policy overhauls by companies like Google Maps in 2023.

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Andy Wong, advocacy director of Stop AAPI Hate, criticizes Congress for extending the program without immediate reevaluation, considering it a missed opportunity to protect citizens from potential violations and continued risks to communities. He suggests that Congress has sidestepped its responsibility in this matter.

One thought on “Congress extends controversial spy program through 2024

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