National security officials are urging Congress to extend the legal authority of a surveillance program that is going to expire by the end of 2017.
Trump administration officials, including Attorney General Jeff Sessions, FBI Director Christopher Wray, National Intelligence director Dan Coats and National Security Agency director Mike Rogers gave the house a classified briefing on extending some of the overseas surveillance programs.
“The program is designed to target foreign individuals, but a series of leaks pertaining to Trump associates conversations with Russian officials have shaken some of the traditional support for the law. Reports that former Obama administration officials had “unmasked” the names of Americans who appeared in the course of foreign surveillance has stoked concern that the program infringes upon privacy rights,” writes The Washington Examiner.
Congressman Bob Goodlatte, chairman of the House Judiciary Committee has drafted a reform to the NSA’s warrantless surveillance program, but it’s facing a tremendous amount of opposition.
Goodlatte claims that a “clean renewal” of the current program won’t pass in the House.
“The dispute centers on a law that lets the government collect emails and text messages sent by foreign spies, terrorists and other foreign targets overseas. Under the law, federal investigators are allowed to search that database for Americans who may have communicated with a foreign target,” writes The Hill. “The intelligence community calls the program a critical tool in identifying and disrupting terrorist plots. Civil liberties advocates say it infringes on the Fourth Amendment.”
Goodlatte’s bill would place more restrictions on the NSA and would require officials to obtain a court order before viewing the content collected for ordinary crimes.However, national security investigators would not have to abide by these limits.
“The bill’s primary reform creates a loophole where backdoor searches of U.S. persons can continue ostensibly for ‘foreign intelligence purposes,’” wrote the civil liberties advocacy group Demand Progress. “This makes it likely that the exception would swallow the rule.”
Goodlatte’s proposal also doesn’t outline how information gathered under the program can or cannot be shared and used by other agencies besides the NSA.
Several lawmakers agree that the reform “needs work.”
“I will be talking with like-minded members on the Judiciary Committee in the coming days,” said Rep. Ted Poe (R-Texas.) “Americans should not be forced to sacrifice individual liberty and constitutional rights for false security.”
Lawmakers like Rep. Adam Schiff are also concerned about protecting the privacy of U.S. citizens.
“We want law enforcement and the intelligence community to be able to make queries of the database in a way that protects the country,” said Schiff. “If we’re concerned about this being turned into a grand database that can be used to prosecute people for unrelated things, then we ought to look more to excluding the use of the contents in non-national security cases, rather than preventing the searches from taking place.”
Domestic spying, in particular, has been a hot topic as of late. In March, Trump accused the Obama administration of wiretapping Trump Tower. Susan Rice, the former national security advisor was then eventually caught spying on Trump transition officials
Nonetheless, it’s going to be a difficult journey to either reform or renew the surveillance program.
“There’s been a lot of pushback here on the privacy issues, the civil liberties issue, and so the assurances need to be pretty ironclad or you risk losing the vote,” said Rep. Gerry Connolly, D-Va to The Washington Examiner. I would say there is close to a working majority in the House that has deep concern about that and absent solid, ironclad assurances, I don’t think they’re prepared to vote for it. We’ll see. It depends on what’s in the legislation and what assurances we’ll get.”
Author’s note: The problem is there is a big difference between overseas surveillance versus domestic surveillance. The Patriot Act was put in place after 9/11 and it expanded law enforcement’s surveillance and investigative powers. Often this law allows agencies to violate citizens’ privacy and civil liberties. It should have been temporary and we think it is time for it to end.
Editor’s note: Since some of these programs were used against the Trump administration you can be they are being looked at closely.