Reauthorization of a foreign intelligence statute that critics say sometimes results in warrantless surveillance of Americans “is vital to protect the nation against international terrorism and other threats,” Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats and Attorney General Jeff Sessions told lawmakers this week. “We are writing to urge that the Congress promptly reauthorize, in clean and permanent form, Title VII of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA), enacted by the FISA Amendments Act of 2008 (FAA), which is set to sunset at the end of this year,” Messrs. Coats and Sessions wrote in a letter released yesterday to congressional leaders.
“Title VII of FISA allows the intelligence community, under a robust regime of oversight by all three branches of government, to collect vital information about international terrorists, cyber actors, individuals and entities engaged in the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction, and other important foreign intelligence targets located outside the United States,” they said.
“Reauthorizing this critical authority is the top legislative priority of the Department of Justice and the intelligence community,” they added.
Legislation introduced over the summer in the Senate would reauthorize FISA without any changes and without a sunset provision. But privacy advocates and the U.S. tech sector would like to see the law scaled back to prevent its use for “incidental” collection of the electronic communications of Americans (TR Daily, May 30). The law is designed to allow intelligence agencies to intercept communications of foreigners who are not in the U.S. When a surveillance target is communicating with an American or someone in the U.S., however, those communications also are intercepted in many cases.
But U.S. intelligence agencies and their overseers are careful to protect Americans’ privacy, Messrs. Coats and Sessions asserted. “Section 702 provides a comprehensive regime of oversight by all three branches of government to protect the privacy and civil liberties of U.S. persons,” they said. “Section 702 may not be used to intentionally target a U.S. person located anywhere in the world, nor may the law be used to intentionally target any person, regardless of nationality, who is known to be located in the United States,” they said.
“We look forward to working with you,” they told lawmakers, “to ensure the speedy enactment of legislation reauthorizing Title VII, without amendment beyond removing the sunset provision, to avoid any interruption in our use of these authorities to protect the American people.” —Tom Leithauser, email@example.com