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John McCain at Senate hearing: We're living an 'Orwellian existence'

10 June, 2017, 17:42 | Author: Melody Ballard

The law, set to expire at the end of the year, has been criticized repeatedly by privacy advocates who say it allows for the data of millions of US citizens to be swept up in government surveillance.

During a Senate hearing that was largely concerned with the government's ongoing investigations into Russian Federation and possible collusion with members of President Donald Trump's campaign, Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats called permanent reauthorization of Section 702 of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) his top legislative priority.

A bloc of conservative senators support that move, setting the stage for what is likely to be a contentious debate with a bipartisan group of lawmakers in the House of Representatives who want transparency and oversight reforms to Section 702 and a limit on searches of U.S. communications.

The Arizona Republican said that Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats' refusal to go into detail about a conversation already reported in The Washington Post "shows what kind of an Orwellian existence that we live in".

NSA Director Michael Rogers broke down two scenarios in which the core controversy, namely the incidental violation of the right to privacy for USA citizens, comes up. A day later, President Trump's Homeland Security Advisor Tom Bossert penned an editorial for The New York Times throwing the White House's support behind efforts to reinstate Section 702 permanently.

In a Senate Select Intelligence Committee hearing that often veered off route, two of the nation's most powerful intelligence figures made their case for extending a controversial portion of the Foreign Surveillance Intelligence Act (FISA) known as Section 702.

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This week, the Trump administration backtracked, catching lawmakers off guard and alarming civil liberties advocates who say it is critical to know as Congress weighs changes to a law expiring at the end of the year that permits some of the National Security Agency's most sweeping espionage.

Coats and other officials had previously told Congress they would attempt to share an estimate publicly before the statute expires.

Andrew Crocker, a staff attorney at the Electronic Frontier Foundation, said one of the most significant reforms needed is to the so-called "backdoor search loophole", where intelligence agencies may conduct warrantless searches of USA citizens' collected communications if the target of the surveillance was a foreign national. Democratic Sen. Ron Wyden asked Coats.

On Tuesday, Senate Republicans introduced a bill that would make Section 702 permanent rather than a program that requires regular review and sunsets after a predetermined period of time.

- A hypocritical move: from Neema Singh Guliani, ACLU Legislative Counsel: "President Trump thinks surveillance is just 'terrible.'".

The White House has expressed its full support on the need for permanent reauthorization of Section 702, created "to address an intelligence-collection gap that resulted from the evolution of technology in the years after FISA became law in 1978".

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