House panel to hold hearing on foreign surveillance law

House panel to hold hearing on foreign surveillance law
© Greg Nash

A key House panel will meet next week to discuss a controversial provision of U.S. law that allows the government to target people outside the U.S. for foreign intelligence purposes.

The House Judiciary Committee will hold a hearing Wednesday on Section 702 of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA), which is set to sunset at the end of this year. 

FISA sets up procedures for surveillance and intelligence-collection of foreign powers and agents of foreign powers. Section 702 was added to the law in 2008 to set up rules for targeting non-U.S. persons outside the United States for foreign intelligence collection.

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While the law does not authorize intelligence collection on U.S. citizens, Americans’ communications can be swept up incidentally but are subject to minimization rules to safeguard their identities.

Privacy and civil liberties advocates are pushing Congress to reform the provision, with many arguing that it is so riddled with problems that it should be scrapped entirely. Proponents of the law describe it as necessary for national security and counterterrorism efforts.

“With Section 702 set to expire at the end of the year, the House Judiciary Committee will work in a bipartisan fashion to reauthorize and reform this intelligence gathering program to ensure that it continues to be a critical tool to thwart terrorist attacks and that it best protects Americans’ civil liberties,” Rep. Bob GoodlatteBob GoodlatteCongressional investigations — not just special counsels — strengthen our democracy How Trump's legal immigration cuts could be a blessing to Dreamers Judiciary Committee Republicans want a second special counsel: report MORE (R-Va.), the committee’s chair, said in advance of the hearing.

“The first part of this process is gathering the facts, and the Committee will do so next week. We will hear from government officials, legal and policy experts, and privacy advocates regarding how the program is currently operating, so that we can best determine what steps might be needed to improve the program.”

The full-committee hearing will have two parts, the first a classified panel and the second unclassified. 

The second half will feature testimony from a number of experts, including a professor in the U.S. Naval Academy’s cyber science department and a member of the NYU law school’s Brennan Center for Justice. 

The National Security Agency’s intelligence collection programs have undergone intense scrutiny in the wake of leaks by whistleblower Edward Snowden in 2013, which led the government to end its bulk collection of data from America’s cell phones.