Sunday, December 31, 2017

Section 702 FAA expires: what are the problems with PRISM and Upstream?

Two important NSA programs, PRISM and Upstream, are based upon section 702 of the FISA Amendments Act (FAA), a law that was scheduled to expire today. Now the US Congress has to decide whether to continue or to reform this crucial legal authority.

Although PRISM became almost synonymous for NSA's alleged mass surveillance, it's actually, just like the Upstream program, targeted collection aimed at specific foreign targets. Still, many people think that way too many data are pulled in (incidental collection) and subsequently queried in an illegal way (backdoor searches).

Here we'll show how complicated these two collection programs are, but also that there are various internal procedures and methods in order to keep collection and analysis as focussed as possible.

Until recently, US lawmakers were too involved with president Trump's tax reform to devote enough attention to section 702 FAA. Therefore, on December 21, Congress extended the authority of this law through January 19, 2018. Lawyers from the Trump administration even concluded that the intelligence agencies can lawfully continue to operate under the FAA through late April (because the current FISA Court certification for the program actually expires late April 2018).

This leaves Congress some extra months to either reform or strengthen this important authority. There are several proposals, spanning from making the existing law permanent without changes, to imposing significant new limits to safeguard the privacy rights of Americans.

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