Recently, the provision of the FISA (Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act) law, section 702 was renewed. What this means is that persistent surveillance is set to prevail in the United States. While during his campaign, US president Donald Trump had stated that he was against renewing FISA, the legislation got the majority of votes (65), which made it pretty much impossible to veto. As a result, the law has been ratified and it remain in place for at least six more years, which means that government agencies like the NSA and the FBI will still be able to monitor data from major companies such as Google, without a warrant. While the surveillance program is meant to target foreigners, in practice, the law has allowed intelligence organizations to monitor the communications of US citizens.
While those in favor of the law claim that it is intended as a crucial tool against terrorism and that it doesn’t have a significant impact on privacy, activists hoped that the legislation would not be renewed, which could have placed limits to the NSA’s authority and power to monitor and control information. Section 702 gives US surveillance agencies freedom to collect information on foreigners outside the United States and it was renewed by both chambers of the Congress. The legislation received significant support, even from Democrats. The law is an amendment to FISA that was added in 2008 and it allows officials to monitor communications of foreigners without needing a warrant. While the program is not designed to target people in the United States, Section 702 does enable the NSA and other agencies to gather data from US companies including AT&T, Google and Microsoft.
There is strong concern among privacy activists and those who pose the legislation because even if it is aimed at foreigners, it provides so much power to US spy agencies that it is not difficult to imagine that US citizens and people in the US will also end up being monitored. While the law is set to target foreigners outside the United States, it is very likely that the information of many US citizens ends up being included in the database. Although President Trump had voiced his opposition to the law during his campaign and many hoped that he would veto it, following the support in Congress, he signed Section 702 into law. This means that US firms like Facebook and Google, will have to share data with government agencies and allow them to search through their user’s communications including emails, messages and browsing history. Thanks to Section 702, government agencies won’t need a judge’s permission to perform a search.
Those who support the FISA extension state that the bill offers essential powers that will allow intelligence agencies to ensure the safety of Americans. However, in the name of national security, the law could severely affect privacy. President Trump through the White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders, told media that there shouldn’t be the need to choose between protecting civil liberties and keeping American citizens secure. However, it seems like when faced with such decision, the US government and politicians will always opt for giving security concerns a priority over the right to privacy. This is why it is important to take the protection to your privacy into your own hands. Tools such as VPN services are still the best way to keep your communications and online activities protected from eavesdroppers, hacking and other security threats.