Very soon, Congress will have to vote on reauthorizing Section 702 of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act. This is the statute that authorizes the “collection, use and dissemination of electronic communications” stored by Internet service providers such as Google and Facebook or that pass through the Internet, via AT&T or similar providers. This statute doesn’t require that the “target” be a suspected spy or terrorist, just that it be a “non-US person” located abroad. Obtaining foreign intelligence doesn’t even have to be the primary purpose of the surveillance, and as we’ve seen recently, anyone who communicates with a person under surveillance, even unknowingly, can be at risk of “unmasking” for questionable purposes and have their reputations and careers destroyed.
It’s because of this suspected political abuse of surveillance data that there is a push on to deny reauthorization of Section 702. Or at the very least, to pass a bipartisan amendment by Sens. Rand Paul and Ron Wyden to limit the intelligence community’s use of information gleaned through it.
As you can see at the linked story, the intelligence agencies offer various frightening scenarios in which tying their hands in any way could lead to missing a terrorist threat and eventual disaster. On the other hand, they want us to continue trading our privacy rights for a promise of security – something Ben Franklin warned us against – and they are asking for a level of trust with our private information that they have not earned. In fact, they’ve squandered it; and in the process, they’ve caused incalculable damage not just to the people directly affected by their actions but to public trust in the government.
It’s a thorny issue that deserves your attention, and whatever you think about it, you should definitely let your Representatives know. This will affect you far more than what some football players do, and it shouldn’t be rubber-stamped and allowed to continue on without at least letting Americans have their say.
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