by Jim Dempsey, Executive Director, Berkeley Center for Law and Technology
The recent reauthorization of Section 702 of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act was never in doubt. However, civil liberties advocates were disappointed when Congress failed to adopt an amendment requiring the government to obtain warrants before seeking information about US citizens in the repository of data collected under statue. More broadly, the debate failed to grapple with the risks of electronic surveillance in the era of globalization, expanding storage capacities, and big data analytics. Nevertheless, looking forward, the reauthorization set up the potential for fresh judicial consideration of a key constitutional question and yielded some opportunities for enhanced oversight of the 702 program.
It was widely accepted that activities conducted under Section 702 were effective in producing useful intelligence on foreign terrorism and other national security concerns. Chances for reauthorization were further boosted by the fact that the broad outlines of 702 implementation were, once you got past the incredible complexity of the statute, well within a reasonable interpretation of Congress’ words. The trust generated by express Congressional authorization was augmented, after the Snowden leaks, by substantial and ongoing public disclosures by the Executive Branch about the law’s implementation – more transparency than any government in the world has ever provided about a similar national security program.