New Legislation Might Soon Restrict NSA Power

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A group of lawmakers recently proposed a new bill that would significantly limit the NSA’s surveillance power.

US lawmakers will soon introduce a new legislation that would significantly restrict the National Security Agency’s (NSA) internet surveillance powers. The new legislation will likely trigger a struggle of power between the lawmakers and the current US administration under President Donald Trump.

The bill has already been introduced this week. The bill from the House Judiciary Committee aims to revise the administration’s current foreign surveillance provision, specifically Section 702 of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA), before its expiry on 31 December 2017.

Section 702 was created to allow US intelligence agencies to gather information on foreign spies, terrorists, as well as foreign targets not on American soil. The current act enables US agencies to collect emails and phone conversation without needing a warrant. However, Section 702 has been known for incidentally collecting data of US citizens as well who communicate with foreign targets.

Advocates of civil and human rights have been appealing to lawmakers to close the “backdoor search loophole” for quite some time now. According to legal experts, the fact that the NSA has access to incidentally collect information of US citizens without a warrant is a direct violation of the citizens’ Fourth Amendment rights.

The new bill, called the US Liberty Act of 2017, if instated would renew Section 702 for a period of six years. The legislation would require any governmental or law enforcement agency to first obtain a warrant before reviewing data or communication if it pertains to a crime.

Notably, the new legislation did not limit the NSA‘s power when it comes to counterterrorism or counter-espionage. The bill has been introduced by the Judiciary Committee chairman, Bob Goodlatte, as well as Ranking Member Jon Conyers.

Other lawmakers have also looked into creating a similar bill to limit the power of Section 702. Democratic Senator Ron Wyden as well as the Republican Senator, Rand Paul, aims to introduce a legislation that would require intelligence agencies to require a warrant for any query when it pertains to an American citizen’s data.

The bill is expected to be met with conflict, particularly from the side of the US administration under president Trump. The White House and intelligence agencies already agreed to a bill which was proposed by Republican senators earlier this year. This bill proposed to renew Section 702 without any amendments and to make it permanent.

However many civil rights activists, most notably the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), has criticized the bill for not providing protection for US citizens.

According to Neema Singh Guliani, a legislative counsel for the ACLU, the new bill enforces positive provisions which would improve current practice. Currently, Section 702 fails to protect American citizens from warrantless government surveillance. However, Singh Guliani stressed that the new bill has a deficiency in that it only partially closes the backdoor search loophole.

The ACLU has urged the House Judiciary to make the legislation of the new bill even stronger. Currently, under Section 702, governmental agencies are allowed to gather data on individuals on mostly-false claims of their religion making them a national threat. Sing Guiliani emphasized that the reforms of the new bill have to be made stronger to protect American citizens’ Fourth Amendment Rights.