Privacy Advocacy Group Urges Transparency Reform for FISA Reauthorization

Computer workstation bears National Security Agency logo inside Threat Operations Center inside Washington suburb of Fort Meade, Md. / Getty
August 17, 2017

As Congress gears up to reauthorize a controversial section of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA), privacy activists are pushing for major transparency reform, according to a new report.

FreedomWorks, a conservative group based in Washington, D.C., is urging Congress to consider several reforms aimed at thwarting the collection of electronic communications from U.S. citizens that are swept up in the surveillance on non-citizens of interest on foreign soil.

The organization backs legislation that would require Title VII of FISA to be subjected to regular renewal by Congress and stop the collection of so-called "about" communications, in which the National Security Agency surveils Americans' electronic communications that discuss foreign intelligence targets.

The call for reform comes amid a growing scandal surrounding efforts by the former Obama administration to unmask the names of Trump administration associates and allies named in classified intelligence reports gathered under FISA laws. The subsequent leak of this classified information has sparked a congressional investigation into what some believe was a deliberate campaign by the former administration to kneecap President Donald Trump's national security apparatus.

FreedomWorks is pushing for enhanced transparency within the program along with limitations on the type of information that can be collected. The group is urging lawmakers to narrow the scope of collected information and allow companies to be more transparent about surveillance.

FreedomWorks also proposes Congress should close the backdoor search loophole that allows warrantless searches and require the intelligence community to disclose an estimate of the number of Americans whose communications have been incidentally collected.

Republican members of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence backed legislation to permanently reauthorize FISA without any reform while the House has begun discussion of reauthorization with reform.

Section 702 of FISA does not intentionally gather information from U.S. citizens, but intelligence agencies' broad surveillance of targets leaves an undisclosed number of Americans affected by the collection.

FreedomWorks will oppose the reauthorization of section 702 if lawmakers fail to implement reform. The group is urging Congress to thoughtfully approach the issues instead of "governing by crisis" and voting last minute.

The authorization for Title VII of FISA is set to expire on Dec. 31, 2017.

Published under: Congress , Intelligence