by Mitch Kokai
Senior Political Analyst, John Locke Foundation
A significant provision in a contentious surveillance law is set to expire at the end of the year, and a number of lawmakers are scrambling to either re-enact the legislation permanently or find its statutory replacement.
Section 702 of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA), which was created through congressional amendments to a prior bill, allows federal intelligence agencies to collect data on foreigners suspected of crimes. But due to the broad powers enumerated in the law and the inherent nature of surveillance, the electronic communications of law-abiding Americans are often scooped up as well. …
… Advocates of the statute, like [Stewart Baker, the first assistant secretary for policy at the U.S. Department of Homeland Security under President George W. Bush], contend that it’s one of the primary ways law enforcement agents are able to nab both would-be and active terrorists.
“702 has turned out to be one of the most valuable programs that the intelligence community [IC] has for terrorism and other reasons, and I don’t hear anyone denying that,” says Baker.
Conversely, critics argue that due to loose, ambiguous language and lack of clear specifications, the provision grants the vast U.S. IC too much power, and thus leads to the inevitable violation of innocent Americans privacy through warrantless and technically illegal searches.