The House is poised to reauthorize a controversial warrantless surveillance program allowing government collection of foreign emails on U.S. soil.

The authority known as Section 702, established in 2008 as part of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Amendments Act, allows the National Security Agency to collect information and communications of overseas foreign targets from U.S. companies without a warrant.

The program is set to expire on New Year’s Eve if the House doesn’t reauthorize the measure.

Section 702 “is the single most important operational statute that the NSA has,” according to NSA general counsel Glenn Gerstell. “There is no replacement for it.”

The legitimacy and scope of Section 702 was questioned by House Intelligence Committee Chairman Devin Nunes (R-Calif.) earlier this year when he asserted that then President-elect Donald Trump and members of his team were illegally surveilled at Trump Tower under the provision’s authority.

“[W]e have found evidence that current and former government officials had easy access to U.S. person information, and it is possible that these officials used this information to achieve partisan political purposes, including the selective, anonymous leaking of such information,” Nunes wrote in a letter to Director of National Security Dan Coats over the summer.

“[S]enior government officials offered remarkably few individualized justifications for access to this U.S. person information,” Nunes added. 

Rep. Adam Schiff (D-Calif.), leading Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee, pushed back against the idea of limiting the government’s warrantless authority, calling it “an effort to politicize the 702 bill.”

“We’ve uncovered not a scintilla of evidence that there was ever any improper unmasking in the 702 program,” Schiff said.

“This language is not only unnecessary, but in our view is simply an effort to politicize the 702 bill.”

There is still debate between the House and Senate Intelligence Committees over what spying limits to put on the government, but it’s believed that the FBI will need a warrant to collect or review any emails intercepted under the renewed authority of Section 702 in 2018.

However, several lawmakers, including Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY) and Rep. Justin Amash (R-Mich.) already said they would vote against the measure.

The Trump administration indicated it would support the bill’s renewal, but considering Trump and individuals in his transition team’s communications were “accidentally intercepted” under Section 702’s authority, it may be wise to let the sunset program expire.


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