The Intelligence Community’s “Highest 2017 Legislative Priority”

According to recent reporting, the highest priority for the intelligence community this year is keeping the unconstitutional Section 702 that allows domestic spying on Americans. What this means is that the intelligence agencies are pushing for more ways to endanger and violate the rights of citizens instead of defending them.

Section 702 must be properly reformed this December to adequately protect civil liberties. Public pressure will be necessary, as power will not concede without demands.

The Office of the Director of National Intelligence Wednesday published a document advocating for the protection of what newly minted spy chief Dan Coats has described as the “crown jewels” of the intelligence community.

The Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Amendments Act, in particular Section 702, authorizes the bulk of the intelligence community’s overseas digital collection powers. A new informational questionnaire published by the ODNI, says maintaining those surveillance powers is “the intelligence community’s top legislative priority for 2017.”

If Congress didn’t reauthorize those authorities, it would “greatly impair the ability of the United States to respond to national security threats,” the document notes.

Congress gave the National Security Agency the power to surveil foreigners communicating outside the U.S. without obtaining individual court orders—to track terrorists, agents of foreign powers, international criminals, and others. The communications are collected through arrangements with companies and straight from the backbone of the Internet. Prior to that, each application to spy on an overseas target required the sign-off of the attorney general and the shadowy Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court, a requirement top national security officials in March jointly described as “extraordinarily burdensome.”

At the end of 2017, those powers will expire, forcing Congress to debate whether changes to the law are necessary. After details about NSA programs came to light in 2013 when former NSA contractor Edward Snowden handed a trove of documents to journalists, privacy advocates have argued for reform. Particularly contentious is the FBI’s ability to search through the foreign database for Americans involved in domestic crime without first getting a warrant, or what’s been called the “backdoor search” loophole.