Posted by Guest on August 07, 2017 in Blog

Screen_Shot_2017-06-07_at_10.39.22_AM.pngBy Annie Riley

Despite a deep partisan divide in Congress over many issues, two senators, from the opposite sides of the spectrum, have joined forces to fight for civil liberties. On Thursday, July 27, the CATO Institute hosted a policy forum moderated by Patrick Eddington, a CATO policy analyst in homeland security and civil liberties, with Senator Ron Wyden (D-OR) and Senator Rand Paul (R-KY) to discuss the future of Section 702 of the FISA Amendments Act, which expires at the end of this year.

The Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court was created in 1978 during the Cold War amidst threats of foreign espionage. Since 1978, Congress passed the Patriot Act in 2001 and later the 2008 FISA Amendments Act. These acts give the government broad power to surveil not only foreigners, but also U.S. citizens. While the court was created to counter foreign spying and more recently, violent extremism, loopholes exist in Section 702 which allow intelligence agencies to collect Americans’ emails, text messages, phone calls, browsing history, you name it. That information is then stored in a database and could be viewed months or years later, all without a warrant.

You may wonder why American citizens’ data gets pulled into foreign intelligence databases. If an American speaks in another language or mentions the name or contact information of a foreign target, their data is subject to surveillance. Two American citizens could be discussing the ongoing conflict in Syria and whether they believe an ISIS leader was killed or not, and simply by mentioning the foreign target’s name, the Americans may be surveilled. This practice is known as ‘about collection,’ and while the NSA released a statement earlier this year in which they claimed they will stop this method of surveillance, loopholes still exist in the legislation that allow intelligence organizations to collect and search Americans’ data without a warrant and through other methods, such as PRISM.

Senators Ron Wyden and Rand Paul have been fighting against these intrusive and unconstitutional policies for years. Paul notably stood on the Senate floor for 10 and a half hours as he criticized the government surveillance programs in an attempt to sway senators against renewing the Patriot Act without reform in 2015. As the Senate prepares to vote to renew, repeal, or reform the FISA Amendment Act at the end of this year, Wyden and Paul are preparing to educate their colleagues on the invasive power intelligence agencies have when it comes to your privacy.

Annie Riley is a summer 2017 intern at the Arab American Institute.