United States lawmakers have recently drafted a Liberty Act, billed to curb the surveillance powers of the federal National Security Agency. However, it seems that the curtailment might not be very effective.
When federal representatives formally introduced the U.S. Liberty Act less than a week ago, it was clear that the legislation is written to renew the NSA’s present surveillance programs, which routinely intrude on the privacy of U.S. citizens on a massive scale.
The current law that is under question is called the Section 702. It is part of the controversial Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA). It was last amended in the year 2008, and the intelligence community wants to renew it on a priority basis this year as it expires by the end of 2017.
The NSA is using Section 702 for justifying its PRISM programs, which collect information from major internet companies, as well as the UPSTREAM program, which targets telecommunications providers.
Section 702 actually offers permission to aim surveillance at foreign targets located outside the U.S., without needing a warrant. However, it is now being used to collect the data of U.S. citizens as well.
Curbing Section 702
The draft Liberty Act is an attempt by a bipartisan lawmaker group to curb the spying powers of the U.S. government. It seeks to control law enforcement agencies’ access to data that is secured by the NSA.
No Warrants Needed
The Section 702 is at present a controversial one, as it allows the Federal Bureau of Investigation, the NSA and other U.S. intelligence agencies to spy on domestic citizens even without a warrant. However, according to Glenn Gerstell, the general counsel for NSA, Section 702 is the most essential statute for the NSA.
The U.S. House generally agrees that the law is useful and has to be renewed. However, there is a privacy concern because the law in its present form enables the FBI to search the database for call transcripts and emails of U.S. citizens, even if they haven’t procured the necessary warrant.
Addressing the Controversy
The new Liberty Act draft legislation aims at addressing some of the controversial aspects of FISA, such as the creation of a huge database on citizens of the U.S. The program has also been criticized for the complete absence of oversight.
Other controversies linked to the NSA’s programs are their non-transparency and non-accountability issues. The new Liberty Act draft aims at addressing all these factors.
The Judiciary Committee introduced the draft legislation earlier this month. It is expected that there will be opposition from the Trump administration, as the latter wants to renew the bill without making any changes to it.
On the other hand, those arguing for civil liberty are in favor of stronger curbs.
The new legislation seeks to require that the FBI must have a legitimate security objective prior to making a search of the database on U.S. citizens. According to the new draft, the FBI must obtain orders from the court pertaining to a possible cause before it can view seized communication data.
That said, the proposed changes are not aimed at curbing the FISA interpretations of the security service in the country. The agencies will continue to have the liberty to review the data of citizens of the U.S., though they have been seized illegally by the NSA. The new draft curbs the agents to the extent that they will need to get the authority to search the data of U.S. citizens.
Intrusion of Privacy
According to several lawmakers from both the Republican and Democratic parties, along with some intelligence officers, it is important for the Trump administration to give heavy thought to the privacy aspect involved while tapping the communication database.
The NSA is also refusing to mention the number of U.S. citizens that are present in the surveillance reports.
What the new draft Liberty Act proposes is to put some checks and balances to the existing FISA system. Even the new draft will not bring in any safeguards for preventing the system from being abused.
What is important is that the law enforcement agencies do not have the right to collect data on U.S. citizens in the first place. The justification put forward is that the act, in its present form, is a means of stopping terrorism with mass surveillance methods.
However, this method is unconstitutional and many groups in the U.S., such as the National Coalition Against Censorship and the American Civil Liberties Union, believe that systemic internet spying practices must be ended.