The House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence (HPSCI) in the U.S. House of Representatives released a Nov. 16 report calling for reauthorization, which includes an outline of the legislation to do so. According to the report, the bill would renew the mass surveillance authority Section 702 and, in the process, invokes a litany of old bogeymen to justify why the program should continue to collect U.S. persons' communications when they talk with people abroad.
As a reminder, the program was intended to collect communications of people outside of the United States, but because we live in an increasingly globalized world, the government intercepts and retains a massive trove of communications between Americans and people overseas. Increasingly, it's this U.S. side of digital conversations that domestic law enforcement agencies trawl through—all without a warrant.
It's an old tactic. People in the intelligence community chafe against any proposals that would cut back on their "collect it all" mentality. This leads them to make a habit of finding the most current threat to public safety in order scare the public into pushing for much needed reforms, with terrorism serving as the most consistent justification for mass surveillance. In this document, HPSCI mentions that Section 702 could be the key to fighting: ISIS, Al-Qaeda, MS-13, and fentanyl trafficking. They hope that one, or all, of these threats will resonate with people enough to make them forget that the government has an obligation to honor the privacy of Americans communications and prevent them from being collected and hoarded by spy agencies and law enforcement.
The House Report
While we are still waiting for the official text, this House report proposes that Section 702 authorities be expanded to include "new provisions that make our nation more secure." For example, the proposal may authorize the use of this unaccountable and out-of control mass surveillance program as a new way of vetting asylum seekers by, presumably, sifting through their digital communications. According to a newly released Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court (FISC) opinion, the government has sought some version of this authority for years, was repeatedly rejected, and received court approval for the first time this year. Because the court opinion is so heavily redacted, it is impossible to know the current scope of immigration- and visa-related querying, or what broader proposal the intelligence agencies originally sought. It's possible the forth-coming proposal seeks to undo even the modest limitations that the FISC imposes on the government.