The Privacy and Civil Liberties Oversight Board (PCLOB) released a report on Section 702, a law allowing broad digital communication collection. The report, backed by organizations like EFF, calls for significant reforms, including individualized permissions for database searches and ending the controversial “abouts” collection. Despite Section 702’s global reach, many U.S. communications are “incidentally” collected and accessed without warrants.
The Privacy and Civil Liberties Oversight Board (PCLOB) has published a report on Section 702, a legal framework permitting extensive digital communication collection globally and within the U.S. PCLOB and organizations like EFF assert that this program needs major reforms, especially before its potential renewal on December 31, 2023. EFF further suggests that the program should expire to ensure privacy for international communications.
PCLOB, a federal body, oversees the effects of national security measures on civil liberties and privacy. Historically, the board has often favored the status quo, compromising privacy. However, their new report recommends significant changes. It suggests that Congress mandate individualized permissions from the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court (FISC) for any 702 database searches involving U.S. citizens. This would change the current practice where the FBI can search communications without any oversight.
The report also advises ending the “abouts” collection authority, which lets the government examine digital communications between two non-targeted individuals discussing a specific person. This method was voluntarily stopped by the Intelligence Community due to legal concerns from the FISC. The consensus is that this form of collection, deemed unconstitutional, should be permanently halted.
Section 702 empowers the National Security Agency to gather communications globally. Even though it claims not to target U.S. residents, many Americans’ communications with overseas contacts get collected. This vast data pool, termed as “incidentally” collected, is often accessed by the FBI without warrants. Such “backdoor” searches have been criticized and challenged multiple times. Numerous organizations, including EFF and ACLU, demand reforms like warrant requirements, legislative safeguards, closing data broker loopholes, enhancing judicial review, and setting clear surveillance limits as prerequisites for any Section 702 re-authorization.
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