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FISA Section 702: Civil Rights Abuses

A one-page document compiled by the Brennan Center on government abuses of Section 702 of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, a foreign intelligence surveillance authority that the government is using to gain warrantless access to Americans’ communications, without significant and wide-ranging surveillance reforms.

Last Updated: November 27, 2023
Published: October 11, 2023

Section 702 of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act was enacted to make it easier for the government to address foreign terrorist threats.  The law gives the government broad authority to surveil non-Americans located abroad, but targeting Americans is prohibited.  Unfortunately, intelligence agencies have used legal loopholes to turn Section 702 into a go-to domestic spying authority, using it to conduct hundreds of thousands of warrantless “backdoor” searches for Americans’ private communications every year. Backdoor searches and other warrantless surveillance techniques raise both civil liberties and civil rights concerns, because when intelligence and law enforcement officials can access Americans’ sensitive information without a warrant, they are more likely to rely on improper considerations such as conscious or unconscious biases or political beliefs.  Congress can help end these abuses by requiring government officials to obtain a probable-cause court order or permission from the subject prior to searching for Americans in information that was obtained without a warrant.

1 Pager 702 Abuses Final November Update Final by The Brennan Center for Justice on Scribd