Attorney General Jeff Sessions and Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats wrote to leaders of Congress Monday urging them to permanently reauthorize a law that allows for the surveillance of digital communications of foreigners located outside the U.S.
Section 702 of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, which gives federal agencies their snooping powers, is set to expire at the end of the year without reauthorization from Congress.
Mr. Sessions and Mr. Coats said the only changes they’d like to see to the law before reauthorization is the removal of a provision that allows the law to sunset - a key clause that has allowed lawmakers to regularly revisit the government’s authority.
In a letter sent to House Speaker Paul Ryan, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and minority leaders Rep. Nancy Pelosi and Sen. Charles E. Schumer, they said reauthorization of the “critical authority” of Section 702 is the “top legislative priority” of the Department of Justice and the Intelligence Community.
Mr. Sessions and Mr. Coats said the authority “allows the Intelligence Community under a robust regime of oversight by all three branches of Government, to collect vital information about international terrorists, cyber actors, individuals and entities engaged in the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction and other important foreign intelligence targets located outside the United States.”
FISA laws have factored in several ongoing probes into Russia’s interference in the presidential election because President Trump has claimed the Obama administration officials illegally abused the laws to spy on him and his staff during the presidential campaign and transition — then leaked what they learned to the press.
Section 702 allows authorities to collect and review emails and other communications of foreigners who are located outside the United States, but Americans communications can be swept up in surveillance as well if they are communicating with a target of an investigation.
But privacy and civil liberties advocates have argued for reforms to further protect American’s since the existence of some of the National Security Agency’s spying programs were revealed through leaks by former NSA contractor Edward Snowden.
Mr. Sessions and Mr. Coats said their agencies conduct “extensive oversight reviews” of Section 702 activities.
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