A federal law authorizing a large portion of the U.S. military’s foreign intelligence collections is set to expire in two months, putting an end to the largest wiretapping operation in history and the primary means by which U.S. spies intercept the private communications of people identified as considered threatening, or simply interesting, by the US government – the world’s leading watchdog.
The U.S. National Security Agency (NSA) relies heavily on the law, Section 702 of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, to compel the cooperation of communications giants that monitor vast swathes of the world’s internet traffic and hundreds of millions of phone calls and email messages intercept every year and eavesdropping on the personal conversations of targeted foreign individuals and anyone else, including Americans, who is unlucky enough to fall under their spell.
To date, members of Congress have introduced exactly zero bills to prevent Section 702 from repealing on January 1, 2024, even though many – perhaps a majority – view this intelligence “crown jewel” as essential to national defense; a flawed but fixable law. Democrats who control the Senate are not innocent when it comes to delaying reauthorization. More than a handful are vying to ensure their renewal is conditioned on new rules that would force the government to obtain a warrant before weaponizing the data against its own citizens. Still, the internal conflict within the Republican Party, many of whose members share a desire to limit the government’s domestic surveillance capabilities, is the biggest factor preventing compromise, especially after the ouster of Kevin McCarthy as House Speaker earlier this month.
The US intelligence community is not without fault. A litany of reported errors, ethics violations, and at least some criminal activity that shows the telltale signs of being swept under the rug have gone a long way toward validating the concerns of Section 702’s biggest critics: privacy advocates on both sides of the aisle , the commonalities with political allies of Donald Trump, a source of animosity when it comes to military and intelligence leaders – officials who are regularly heaped on the right with accusations of partisanship and other “treasonous things.”
A US report published in September by an independent federal privacy watchdog details a series of new “non-compliant” uses of raw Section 702 data by analysts at the NSA, an agency where military and civilian employees have been caught repeatedly misusing sensitive information for personal and even sexual reasons. The report was issued by the Privacy and Civil Liberties Oversight Board (PCLOB), a panel effectively created by Congress in 2005 to assess the extent of the explosion of surveillance after 9/11. It adds to a decade’s worth of documented surveillance abuses.
The Wall Street Journal First reported in 2013 Amid the exploding Edward Snowden scandal, NSA employees were repeatedly caught spying on what the newspaper described as “love interests.” The phenomenon is widespread enough within the agency to receive its own internal name: “LOVEINT,” a portmanteau of “love” and “intelligence,” abbreviated in the style of actual surveillance disciplines like SIGINT and HUMINT (“signals” and “human.” ). intelligence or)