In 2008, Congress enacted Section 702 of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) to expand the government’s capacity to conduct surveillance of suspected foreign terrorists. The law permits the National Security Agency to acquire the communications of almost any foreigner abroad without obtaining an individualized court order.
Although the surveillance may only be targeted at foreigners abroad, it inevitably sweeps in large amounts of Americans’ phone calls, texts, and emails. Congress and the FISA Court have attempted to limit the government’s access to these communications, but the government has engaged in widespread violations of these limits. To give just a few examples, the FBI has conducted warrantless searches of Section 702-acquired information to access communications of Black Lives Matter protestors, U.S. government officials, journalists, political commentators, and 19,000 donors to a single congressional campaign.
Absent congressional action, Section 702 will expire on December 31, 2023. The Brennan Center, joined by twenty prominent national organizations spanning the ideological spectrum, opposes reauthorization without major reforms of Section 702 and related authorities.