Last week, the United States Senate Intelligence Committee held an open hearing on FISA section 702, which is set to sunset at the end of 2017. 702 enables widespread surveillance, and we’ve been expressing concerns about it for quite some time now. This hearing focused specifically on the 702 section that covers “Procedures for Targeting Certain Persons Outside the United States Other Than United States Persons.” Under the amendments, officials cannot target US persons with their surveillance practices. Foreigners, however, can be surveilled when using US communications or Internet technologies. And of course, when using these methods to communicate many of the conversations may take place between foreigners and US citizens. It’s standard procedure to mask the identities of citizens, but sometimes they are compromised even if unintentionally, which is referred to as “unmasking” and creates large concerns around privacy.
According to a live blog from EFF, the hearing went as expected. Although “about” searches under 702 were recently paused (link to past blog this is explained), the NSA director left the door open for restarting them at some point down the line. He explained why they were stopped in the first place, because the agency’s “technical capabilities could not reliably comply with court-ordered rules for such searches.” Implying that if technical solutions appear down the line, they could restart these practices. Some other developments of note include:
- A request to discuss encryption backdoors, but in a closed setting (no updates at this time)
- Repeated assertions that rules governed by 702 were never intentionally violated in oversight or misused
- A failure of officials to note that Section 702 collection includes Americans’ communications and require a warrant
- DNI Coats backed out of a previous commitment to provide Congress with an estimate of how many U.S. persons’ (citizens and permanent residents) communications are collected under Section 702 (which would be important information to have if reauthorizing)
- Mention of the poor oversight of 702 thus far