FISA / Section 702 Re Approval Campaign Kickoff


Marking the kickoff of a campaign to build support for the extension of Section 702 of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA), Assistant Attorney General Matthew Olsen defended the measure  in a speech at the Brookings Institution February 28th.

The Chief of the Justice Department’s National Security Division praised the utility of the Act’s “warrantless surveillance,” and gave assurances that lessons lad been learned.    The post 9/11 surveillance law permits government collection of communications of foreigners abroad, to include their interactions with Americans, without obtaining a warrant.  

This suspension of Citizens’ Fourth Amendment protections has prompted concerns from civil rights and privacy advocates, while elements of the political right piled on.  House Judiciary Committee Chair Jim Jordan (R-OH) and House Intelligence Committee Chair Mike Turner (R-OH) have both opposed the Act as it stands, with Mr. Jordan calling for its sunset and Mr. Turner naming a GOP working group to guide the reforms.

Excerpts from Olson’s Speech  [Full Text}

"What keeps me up at night is thinking about what will happen if we fail to renew Section 702 of FISA. This law will expire on December 31st of this year if Congress doesn’t act to reauthorize it. If 702 expires or is watered down, the United States will lose critical insights we need to protect the country.

"Section 702 enables the United States government to gain intelligence about our most pressing threats. Today, we are relentlessly focused on serious threats, such as:

  • The Chinese government’s efforts to spy on us and steal our technology;
  • Iran’s sanctions evasions;
  • North Korea’s nuclear program; and
  • Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

"Let me stress the point about the threat we face from China, in particular. At this moment, when China is ramping up its aggressive efforts to spy on Americans, it would be a grievous mistake to blind ourselves to that threat by allowing this critical authority to expire.

"The bottom line is that Section 702 gives us the intelligence necessary to stay one step ahead of our adversaries. We cannot afford to allow it to lapse. And it is too important to the interests of the U.S. and our allies — and to our basic safety — to wait for the 11th hour to do so.

"When I first came to NSD in 2008, I was part of the team that helped craft Section 702. I went on to become the General Counsel at NSA where I oversaw NSA’s implementation of 702 and saw, in practice, both the power of 702 as a collection tool and the rigor of the oversight procedures that are built into it.

"When FISA was originally passed, Congress intended for the law to regulate surveillance activities conducted within the United States. But with the advent of the internet, and as the technology supporting international communications evolved, FISA’s terms required the government to seek individualized court orders, even when the target of the collection was a foreign person based overseas.

"This is the key point:  Section 702 only authorizes intelligence collection targeting non-U.S. persons who are outside the United States. In such cases, 702 provides the legal framework for the government to compel assistance from U.S. electronic communications service providers.

"Unfortunately, in this highly sensitive area, we’ve made mistakes in recent years that have undermined trust…. We’ve implemented key reforms But I want to be clear, this is about more than just imposing a checklist of new requirements… we are building a culture of compliance."


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