USA intelligence wants to make a key foreign surveillance law permanent

"And yet, here in a public hearing before the American people, we can't talk about what was described in detail in this morning's Washington Post", McCain asked at the Senate Intelligence Committee hearing.

The committee will hear testimony from four senior officials: Director of National Intelligence Daniel Coats; Acting FBI Director Andrew McCabe; National Security Agency Director Adm. Mike Rogers; and Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein.

The committee held an open hearing to discuss Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) legislation with top intelligence officials, focusing on section 702 of the act outlining "Procedures for Targeting Certain Persons Outside the United States Other Than United States Persons".

Video of the hearing is available here and below.

The law, set to expire at the end of the year, has been criticized repeatedly by privacy advocates who say it allows for the data of millions of USA citizens to be swept up in government surveillance.

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The push to make the law permanent may lead to a contentious debate over renewal of Section 702 in Congress, where lawmakers in both parties are deeply divided over whether to adopt transparency and oversight reforms.

NSA Director Michael Rogers broke down two scenarios in which the core controversy, namely the incidental violation of the right to privacy for US citizens, comes up.

He went on to note that without Section 702, intelligence agencies would have to obtain a court order issued due to probable cause - ostensibly the bar that needs to be cleared in order to surveil USA citizens.

"We can not allow adversaries overseas to cloak themselves in the legal protections we extend to Americans", White House Homeland Security Adviser Tom Bossert wrote in a recent New York Times opinion piece.

The statute, which allows the National Security Agency a wide berth in the collection of foreigners' digital communications, normally comes with a "sunset" clause roughly every five years to allow lawmakers to reconsider its impact on privacy and civil liberties.

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Coats and other officials had previously told Congress they would attempt to share an estimate publicly before the statute expires.

"This program has provided our national security agencies vital intelligence that has saved American lives and provided insights into some of the hardest intelligence targets", Cotton said in a statement. A frustrated Democratic Senator Ron Wyden, who has asked for such an estimate for several years, said Coats "went back on a pledge".

Meanwhile, Thomas P. Bossert, homeland security and counterterrorism adviser to President Donald Trump, wrote an op-ed for the New York Times published Wednesday stressing the need to make the law permanent.

- A hypocritical move: from Neema Singh Guliani, ACLU Legislative Counsel: "President Trump thinks surveillance is just 'terrible.'".

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