FISA Abuse and Warrantless Spying Uncovered

Written by Andrew Thompson.

Congress has reauthorized Section 702 of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA), a decision met with deep concern due to emerging reports of misuse. Just after the renewal, the Office of the Director of National Intelligence (ODNI) disclosed details showing significant abuse of the warrantless surveillance powers granted under this law.

Section 702, intended for capturing foreign communications, was reportedly used to query the communications of U.S. persons a staggering 57,094 times over the past year. This figure represents a sharp decrease from previous years, yet it still underscores a troubling pattern of surveillance reach extending far into the lives of American citizens without their consent.

The Decline in Queries and Rise in Unmaskings

Despite the reduced number of queries, the instances of unmasking U.S. persons have surprisingly increased. In 2023 alone, 31,330 Americans were unmasked, up from 11,511 in the previous year. Unmasking typically occurs when identities in intelligence reports need to be revealed to understand the information fully. However, the sharp rise in these instances, particularly related to a report involving threats to U.S. critical infrastructure, has sparked fears about the potential for overreach and privacy violations.

This alarming trend has raised several eyebrows across the political and civil liberties spectrum. The ODNI attributes the rise in unmaskings to efforts against foreign cyber actors targeting American infrastructure, but this has done little to quell concerns about the expansive power and lack of adequate oversight within U.S. surveillance agencies.

Our Take

The revelations from the ODNI report following the renewal of FISA Section 702 present a complex and concerning picture of federal surveillance practices. While national security is undeniably critical, the balance between security and the civil liberties of U.S. citizens remains precarious. The increase in unmaskings and the ongoing use of Section 702 to surveil Americans call for a critical assessment of the laws that govern our privacy.

It is essential for surveillance authorities to operate within the bounds of strict oversight and transparency to maintain the trust of the American public. The pursuit of security should not come at the expense of the foundational rights that define our nation. As these discussions continue, it will be vital to ensure that measures meant to protect us do not instead harm our liberty.

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