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US Politicians Seek To Limit Internet Surveillance Of US Citizens

Tom Jowitt is a leading British tech freelance and long standing contributor to TechWeek Europe

Bad news for American spooks? US politicians seek to overhaul rules governing warrant-less internet surveillance

US lawmakers from across the political spectrum have proposed legislation on Wednesday to reign in certain elements of the warrant-less internet surveillance program carried out by the National Security Agency (NSA).

The proposed bill by the House of Representatives Judiciary Committee, will reportedly be submitted this week.

Internet surveillance by intelligence agencies remains a highly sensitive subject in many countries, ever since the scale of the NSA snooping on citizen’s data was first revealed in 2013 by whistleblower Edward Snowden.

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Proposed Bill

The proposed bill called the USA Liberty Act wants to reform the law, known as Section 702 of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, before its expiration on 31 December, Reuters reported.

This piece of law is seen as vital by US intelligence agencies, as it allows them to carry out surveillance, and indeed store, vast amounts of digital communications from foreign suspects living outside the United States.

But this program also collects and gathers communications of US citizens, who were not surveillance targets and were not communicating with targets.

US law enforcement then has free reign and can search these communications without a warrant.

But Reuters, citing a discussion draft of the legislation, said the proposed bill will partially restrict the US law enforcement’s ability to access American data collected under Section 702.

Instead it will require the law enforcement to obtain a search warrant when seeking evidence of a criminal act.

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But it is worth noting that this limitation would not apply to FBI requests concerning counter-terrorism or counter-espionage, which has displeased privacy and civil liberty campaigners.

And the bill will also extend the surveillance authority set to expire at the end of this year, until 2023.

Other notable parts of the proposed bill is that 702 metadata cannot be “the sole basis” for establishing probable cause.

The bill also limits gathering information on a person to “communications to or from the targeted person” and any data that does not contain foreign intelligence information should be deleted within 90 days.

That said, the NSA will have the power to waive that requirement on certain cases if the agency determines that the information is “necessary to protect the national security.”

Political Moves

There has been a number of political attempts recently in the US to change the 702 laws ahead of its expiration at the end of the year.

In June, Republican Senator Tom Cotton and others introduced a bill (backed by the White House and intelligence agencies) to make the original provision permanent without any changes. But that bill was defeated.

But the NSA is known to regard these laws as imperative to national security.

In May the NSA agreed to rein in some of its most controversial surveillance practices on US citizens following a conflict over privacy issues with a secret court.

The agency confirmed it plans to end the collection of messages that mention a surveillance target outside the US but aren’t directly transmitted to or from that target.

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