White House, intel chiefs want to make digital spying law permanent

Patrice Gainsbourg
Junho 10, 2017

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.

Section 702 authorizes NSA to tap the physical infrastructure of internet service providers, like fiber connections, to surveil the content of foreign emails, instant messages, and other communications as they exit and enter the U.S. Privacy advocates say such collection facilitates a loophole for NSA to incidentally collect data belonging to American citizens, and likely amounts to millions of warrantless interceptions.

Neither the White House nor the U.S. intelligence community can legally target USA persons for surveillance, experts and current and former officials have noted.

In the 10 years since Congress enacted the FISA Amendments Act, Coats said "there have been no violations of Section 702", but Rogers admitted there have been compliance issues.

"We're not going to reauthorize these surveillance programs if the American people are not satisfied that their security is going to be safeguarded", Rep. Trey Gowdy, a South Carolina Republican and House intelligence committee member, said last month on Fox News.

The hearings takes place a day after news broke that Mr. Trump asked Mr, Coates in a private meeting after a broader gathering of agency heads in March to stop the investigation into former National Security Adviser Michael Flynn, who was dismissed after misleading Vice President Mike Pence and others about the extent of his contacts with Russian officials during the presidential transition.

Coats said "it remains infeasible to generate an exact, accurate, meaningful, and responsive methodology that can count how often a US person's communications may be collected" under the law known as Section 702 of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act.

Privacy advocate Sen. Ron Wyden criticized DNI Coats for his backtracking, calling his reversal a "very, very damaging position to stake out".

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"My level's about 100", Coats answered.

Coats added the technical complications of coming up with a number would be explained to senators in a closed session later Wednesday.

The NSA director said "about 90 percent of the time" incidental collection of data on Americans occurs when two foreign targets of the agency discuss an American in an intercepted communication.

Disclosures by former NSA contractor Edward Snowden in 2013 revealed the sweeping nature of 702 surveillance, prompting outrage internationally and embarrassing some USA technology firms shown to be involved in a program known as Prism.

"The failure of the government to provide this information undermines effective Congressional oversight and the robust debate that this issue demands", said an ACLU statement. The identities of those Americans are normally masked, or redacted, however, before the intelligence reports are disseminated to anyone outside of the National Security Agency.

Republican Sen. Marco Rubio asked if there was "a significant uptick" in unmasking requests by the Obama administration, but Rogers replied that he did not know.

Sen. Tom Cotton introduced a bill to permanently approve FISA section 702. Additionally, he said, that audit would violate the privacy of innocent Americans incidentally collected by 702 surveillance. Trump and his allies have accused the intelligence community of improperly unmasking United States persons, revealing their identities to former Obama administration officials who then allegedly leaked them to the press.

"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.

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