The NSA would still be
allowed to collect
innocent people under
the new bill, says the
The American Spark
Bill To Change NSA Surveillance Not Enough, Say Privacy Experts
By Cliff Montgomery - Nov. 29th, 2017
Since Edward Snowden revealed that the U.S. government employs a previously little-known section of the
Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) to potentially spy on every American citizen, there has been a
real push to bring back meaningful constitutional and legal accountability for federal officials.
A new attempt to address the issue appears to be the so-called USA Liberty Act of 2017, a bipartisan bill
sponsored by Senators Mike Lee [R-UT] and Patrick Leahy [D-VT]. Representatives Bob Goodlatte [R-VA],
John Conyers [D-MI] and Jim Sensenbrenner [R-WI] are among the sponsors of the U.S. House version.
Among other things, the proposal was created “to amend the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act of 1978
to clarify and improve the procedures and accountability for authorizing certain acquisitions of foreign
intelligence,” or so states the introduction to the potential legislation.
But while the bill may address some of the most blatant spying abuses - for instance, the Senate version
forces government officials to obtain a warrant before they may search the data they collect - it’s clear that
“the first draft of the bill falls short,” according to an analysis released by the Electronic Frontier Foundation
(EFF), a leading privacy watchdog.
Why is this such a huge issue?
Section 702 of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) allows the National Security Agency (NSA)
to collect numerous emails and other communications between foreigners living overseas and Americans -
which in this globalized, digital age, means that the private communications of U.S. citizens now are routinely
collected without a warrant.
“Agents for the NSA, CIA, and FBI have long rifled through the communications collected under Section 702,”
according to the EFF analysis, that has included “American communications, as well as the communications
of foreigners who have no connection to crime or national security threats.”
“With no approval from a judge, they’re able to search this database of communications using a range of
personal identifiers,” added the EFF, “then review the contents of communications uncovered in those
How large is this spy net? In 2013, the Washington Post quoted a top U.S. intelligence official who declared
that the NSA director for Presidents Bush and Obama had a simple data collection policy:
“Rather than look for a single needle in the haystack, his approach was, ‘Let’s collect the whole
haystack,’ ... Collect it all, tag it, store it. . . . And whatever it is you want, you go searching for it.”
However, Section 702 has to be re-authorized every few years; hence the reason for the flurry of activity on
this pressing matter.
But privacy experts say that this legislative proposal for the FISA law fails to solve basic legal issues.
For instance, the EFF states that the NSA would still be allowed to collect information on innocent people.
And the bill’s “new reporting requirements, new defaults around data deletion, and new guidance for amicus
engagement with the FISA Court” continue to allow federal officials to engage in questionable activities like
so-called “backdoor searches”- reviews of the communications U.S. Internet users have with foreigners via
major online networks like Facebook, Google and Yahoo.
All the same, ACLU counsel Neema Singh Guliani told journalists that the Senate legislation is more
constitutionally sound than the House bill, since it does possess a warrant requirement.
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