Congress Is About To Pass A Massive Expansion To Illegal Surveillance And No One Is Talking About It


Buried deep within the section 702 FISA reauthorization bill is the largest expansion of illegal domestic surveillance since the Patriot Act.

“The NSA is just DAYS from taking over the internet, and it’s not on the front page of any newspaper–because no one has noticed.”

Those were the words of former NSA contractor and domestic spying whistleblower Edward Snowden as Congress works to reauthorize section 702 of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, more commonly known by the acronym FISA.

The House of Representatives recently passed an amendment to expand the program after the vote was deadlocked 212 to 212 last Thursday.

As Fortune reports, “With just days to go before it expires, it now looks like Section 702 of the U.S. Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA)—which compels communications service providers to hand over loads of data to U.S. intelligence—will be renewed after all. But those calling for Section 702’s reform, to better protect Americans, say the controversial surveillance program is about to become more invasive than ever before.”

On April 12th, Oregon’s Democrat senator Ron Wyden referred to the bill as “one of the most dramatic and terrifying expansions of government surveillance authority in history,” in a statement on X (formerly Twitter).

Elizabeth Goitein, civil liberties advocate and co-director of the Liberty and National Security Program at the Brennan Center for Justice, noted the ramifications of the expansion of section 702 in a thread.

Elaborating that under the current law, the government can compel electronic communications service providers that have direct access to communications to assist the NSA in conducting section 702 surveillance. Stating that in practice, that means companies like Verizon and Google must turn over the communications of the targets of section 702 surveillance. Emphasizing targets must be foreigners overseas although the communications can, and do, include communications with Americans.

She goes on to point out that although a seemingly innocuous change to the definition of “electronic communication service provider”, an amendment offered by house intelligence committee (HPSCI) leaders and passed by the house vastly expands the universe of entities that can be compelled to assist the NSA. 

Meaning that if the bill becomes law any company or individual that provides any service whatsoever may be forced to assist in NSA surveillance as long as they have access to equipment on which communications are transmitted or stored such as routers, servers, cell phone towers, etcetera. Thus sweeping in an enormous range of US businesses that provide Wi-Fi to their customers and therefore have access to equipment on which communications transit. Barber shops, laundromats, fitness centers, hardware stores, dentist office’s, the list goes on.

Goitein further explains that this also includes commercial landlords that rent out the office space where tens of millions of Americans go to work everyday, including the offices of journalists, lawyers, nonprofits, financial advisors, health care providers, and more. Extending to service providers that come into the homes of average people, including house cleaners, plumbers, repairman, IT service providers and others that could potentially be forced to serve as surrogate spies for the NSA. And, worse still, be completely unable to sound the alarm, as such action by the NSA would mean they are compelled to silence under gag orders with strict penalties for failure to comply. 

The most troubling aspect, she states, comes from the fact that most of these individuals and businesses lack the ability to isolate and turnover targets communications unlike large corporations such as Google or Verizon. Meaning that the information turned over to the NSA would include entire troves of personal information and domestic communications on an unprecedented scale.

Two recent reports have elaborated thoroughly upon the long reaching history of illegal domestic surveillance on the part of the FBI and other federal agencies through the use of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act. It is not an exaggeration to say that the newest amendments proposed to section 702 present a surveillance monstrosity of indescribable proportions, virtually eliminating the prospect of data privacy and creating an Orwellian panopticon wherein the NSA has access to every last little bit of your information, even more so than they already do in a sinister bid to exchange real liberty for phantom security

The bill is now set to go to the Senate.