President Donald Trump and a group of powerful establishment Republicans in the Senate are bent on solidifying the surveillance state’s ability to continue spying practices that result in American communications being scooped up in the dragnet. But privacy-minded Republicans are pushing back– and they have a good chance of forcing reforms.
Last week, Trump homeland security and counter terrorism adviser Thomas Bossert took to The New York Times opinion pages to make one thing abundantly clear: The Trump administration supports intrusive government surveillance in the name of protecting Americans, and it expects Congress to reauthorize some of the most powerful portions of the Section 702 approval that allows federal officials to collect massive troves of communications data in its spy dragnet.
Imposing a warrant requirement to conduct such data queries, as some in Congress have proposed, would be legally unnecessary and a step toward re-erecting pre-9/11 barriers to our ability to identify foreign terrorists and their contacts.
Over nearly a decade of rigorous oversight, no intentional abuse of the Section 702 authority has ever been identified, and the government has quickly taken action to rectify unintentional mistakes. The Section 702 authority has enabled actionable warnings of violent attacks and the collection of information about weapons proliferators and cyberhackers. And it has revealed other threats to our nation’s security.
Nevertheless, any surveillance authority is powerful and must be exercised with prudence and care. Congress engineered Section 702 with substantial constraints, and it is implemented with rigorous oversight by all three branches of our government. The government’s internal training, oversight, technology and inspector-general regime, along with oversight by the Department of Justice, the Office of the Director of National Intelligence, the United States Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court, the Privacy and Civil Liberties Oversight Board — which deserves special praise — and Congress, all ensure that the government uses these important authorities properly.
Evidently he missed the whole NSA leak a couple years ago and the ensuing national uproar over unconstitutional government spying.
But it doesn’t seem to matter. Many surveillance hawks in Congress, especially in the Senate, never blinked as much of the rest of the nation gasped at the idea that their private communications could be swept up by the same surveillance machinations designed to catch radical terrorists overseas.
Sens, John McCain (R-Ariz.), Tom Cotton (R-Ark.) and Marco Rubio (R-Fla.), among others, are currently working to push a legislative agenda which would make the 702 approval permanent, secret, and no longer subject to debate.
Opposition to the effort in the upper chamber is largely futile.
Luckily, as we’re seeing with a number of issues now that the GOP controls both the legislative and executive branches, conservative holdouts remain in the House.
Freedom Caucus members are warning their Senate colleagues and the Trump administration that they intend to work in the other direction.
“Government surveillance activities under the FISA Amendments Act have violated Americans’ constitutionally protected rights. We oppose any reauthorization of the FISA Amendments Act that does not include substantial reforms to the government’s collection and use of Americans’ data,” Freedom Caucus chairman Mark Meadows (R-N.C.) said on Thursday.
Expect surveillance conversations in Congress to heat up over the next several months.
The House members can’t completely quash the Trump White House and Senate establishment zeal to forever kill surveillance debate. But they can, at least, keep 702 from becoming a permanent government fixture.