As reported in the New York Times, the National Security Agency (NSA) is stopping a controversial part of its warrantless surveillance conducted under Section 702 of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA), which permits the targeting of non-U.S. persons outside the U.S. It reportedly abandoned the practice of collecting communications that merely mention an identifier associated with a target, such as an email address or telephone number. This “about” collection swept in many communications that involved Americans. The NSA will continue to collect communications to which the target is actually a party. The Center for Democracy & Technology (CDT) has advocated against this form of untargeted surveillance.
“The content of our emails and texts contains incredibly personal information about our work, our families, and our most intimate thoughts. The NSA should never have been vacuuming up all of these communications, many of which involved Americans, without a warrant. While we welcome the voluntary stopping of this practice, it’s clear that Section 702 must be reformed so that the government cannot collect this information in the future,” said Michelle Richardson, Deputy Director of the Freedom, Security, and Technology Project at CDT.
The secret FISA court initially rejected the surveillance practice, but later approved it as long as the “about” content collected was separated out and not searched. The New York Times article suggests that the NSA elected to stop the program because its analysts were searching the collected data despite the prohibition on doing so. Section 702 of FISA is set to expire at the end of the year and is currently under consideration by Congress.
“The ultra-secretive FISA court clearly does not offer sufficient oversight to the NSA’s surveillance practices, nor are secret privacy rules enough to stop abuses of this personal data. Such private information deserves the highest standard of protection under the law. This was obviously not the case and Congress must act to align the NSA’s practice with our core Fourth Amendment rights,” Richardson added.
CDT will be offering more insight and analysis as further details around the NSA’s decision to halt the program emerge.