A panel of national security experts convened by the Biden administration recommended further restrictions on the FBI’s ability to access surveillance data that captures communications by Americans, citing repeated lapses by the agency.
(Bloomberg) — A panel of national security experts convened by the Biden administration recommended further restrictions on the FBI’s ability to access surveillance data that captures communications by Americans, citing repeated lapses by the agency.
The Presidential Intelligence Advisory Board found that Section 702 of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, which allows the US intelligence community to collect data on non-US persons believed to be located outside the United States, is an essential national-security tool. The section would expire on December 31 unless renewed by Congress.
Although the program is intended to collect communications of hundreds of thousands of non-Americans abroad for foreign intelligence purposes, it also incidentally sweeps up communications with or about US people and companies. US intelligence agencies can then search the data trove by entering Americans’ names, telephone numbers and email addresses, in what are known as “US person queries.” Critics characterize this manner of prying on Americans’ details — and potentially their communications — as a “back-door search.”
Without changes, congressional renewal of the surveillance authority is in doubt. A number of Republicans have joined criticism of Section 702 by Democrats, civil liberties groups and tech giants including Alphabet Inc.’s Google and Apple Inc.
Read more: Google, Meta, Apple Push Overhaul of How Spy Agencies Track Tech
A senior administration official who briefed reporters on condition of anonymity said the White House will review all of the board’s recommendations, with a particular focus on the first: removing the FBI’s ability to search the Section 702 database for evidence of crimes that aren’t related to national security.
Still, the advisory panel found “that Section 702 authorities are crucial to national security and do not threaten civil liberties, so long as the requisite culture, processes, and oversight are in place.”
The board found that the Federal Bureau of Investigation, which receives 4% of the data collected under Section 702, engaged in repeated noncompliance with the law’s requirements — an issue board members attributed to careless handling rather than willful misuse of the data.
In a statement, National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan and deputy Jon Finer said the provision “should be reauthorized without new and operationally damaging restrictions on reviewing intelligence lawfully collected by the government and with measures that build on proven reforms to enhance compliance and oversight, among other improvements.”
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