Citing the terrorist attacks in Paris earlier this month, Florida Democratic U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson took to the floor of the Senate Monday to call for the permanent extension of Section 702 of the FISA Amendments Act, which is scheduled to expire in 2017.
“This crucial tool provides access to electronic communications of suspected terrorists and other foreign persons located outside of the U.S., and so as we redouble our counterterrorism efforts, we must maintain what works and make the necessary changes as the threat evolves,” Nelson said. “And that means remaining vigilant and using all the tools in our toolbox, including intelligence collection, homeland security protections in the fight against ISIS on the battlefield.”
Nelson began his speech by referencing a change in the law that occurred this weekend that means the National Security Agency will no longer directly hold information about the telephone calls of millions of US citizens. The USA Freedom Act that passed this summer and went into effect this past the weekend means that phone data will remain with the telecom companies, and the NSA will have to go to the FISA court to get access. However, the change only applies to telephone records. The NSA can continue to harvest bulk communications from the Internet and social media.
The ACLU called the change a “milestone,” but Nelson complained about that change.
“So how long is it going to take to go into court? Is it going to take months? Is it going to take weeks? Days? All the time the potential terrorist is well ahead of us,” he said, adding that “this senator feels that we shouldn’t limit those hops if we’re trying to find out who the bad guy is and who it is, what he’s about to do.”
While Nelson wants Section 702 of the FISA Amendment Acts permanently extended, civil liberty groups want it to go away.
The Electronic Frontier Foundation, one of the nation’s leading civil liberties groups on digital issues, has said that Section 702 of the FISA Amendments Act “is deeply troubling.”
“Section 702 is not just about keeping us safe from terrorism. It’s a distressingly powerful surveillance tool,” EFE activist Nadia Kayyali wrote last year. She cited the fact that the NSA has shared intelligence with the Drug Enforcement Agency that has led to prosecutions for drug crimes, all while concealing the source of the data.
“We also need to reform the FISA Amendments Act, which sunsets in 2017,” Senate Judiciary Committee ranking Democrat and USA Freedom Act author Sen. Patrick Leahy said last month. “This law, also known as Section 702, has significant privacy implications for innocent Americans. And with the European Court of Justice’s decision, it continues to have significant implications for American businesses in the global economy. I look forward to working with you to reform Section 702 and other surveillance authorities.”