Security

Despite privacy concerns, Trump will not reform FISA 'to protect the security of the nation'

The Trump administration plans to reauthorize the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, despite criticisms from Congress and privacy advocates, who say it allows unnecessary spying on citizens.

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The Trump administration does not plan to reform the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA), and instead will reauthorize the law in efforts to protect national security, according to a recent Reuters report.

FISA's purpose is to govern spy programs for foreigners. However, "an unknown amount of communications belonging to Americans are also collected due to a range of technical and practical reasons," Reuters noted. While US intelligence agencies have called this data "incidental," and say the law cannot be used to target Americans, privacy advocates argue that it permits the government to conduct bulk searches of Americans' online communications.

"We support the clean reauthorization and the administration believes it's necessary to protect the security of the nation," an unnamed White House official told Reuters.

Of particular interest to those in the tech industry is a controversial provision called Section 702, which became law in 2008, and was renewed for five years in 2012. It will expire on December 31, 2017, unless it is reauthorized.

SEE: Video: FBI CISO on aftermath of Wikileaks, Snowden, 2016 election

Section 702 authorizes US intelligence authorities to target the communications of non-US citizens located outside of the country for "foreign intelligence purposes," according to the US House of Representatives Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence. This provision gained national attention in 2013 due to the leaks by Edward Snowden, which revealed that the section's internet surveillance program, Prism, gathers messaging data from Google, Facebook, Microsoft, Apple, and other major tech companies. Another program called Upstream intercepts moving data in the US.

"A key anti-terror tool that has helped to thwart numerous terror plots including the 2009 conspiracy to bomb the New York City subway, Section 702 operations are subject to multiple layers of oversight by all three branches of government," according to the intelligence committee's website.

On Wednesday, the US House of Representatives' Judiciary Committee met to discuss the law.

After the Snowden leaks, the Pew Research Center conducted a study on Americans' views on privacy issues. Pew found that 52% of Americans described themselves as "very concerned" or "somewhat concerned" about government surveillance of Americans' data and electronic communications. Meanwhile, 46% of Americans said they were "not very concerned" or "not at all concerned" about this. Pew noted that those who followed the news about the Snowden leaks were more anxious about privacy policy and their own privacy than those who did not.

Pew also surveyed technology experts, who predicted that few individuals will have the energy or resources to protect themselves from "dataveillance" in the coming years. The experts also said they foresee increasing security issues due to the rise of Internet of Things (IoT) devices in consumers' homes. This makes it even more important for tech companies that develop these devices to ensure that they have robust security protections in place.

The US is not the only nation concerned with national security. In November 2016, the UK passed the Investigatory Powers Bill, known by critics as the "snoopers charter," which forces communications providers to store customer website history, calls, and texts for one year to be used in police investigations. It also gives the UK government the ability to hack into user devices for an investigation, TechRepublic reported.

The 3 big takeaways for TechRepublic readers

1. The Trump administration plans to fully reauthorize the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA), according to a Reuters report, in order to bolster national security efforts.

2. The provision Section 702, which allows intelligence authorities to target the communications of non-US citizens located outside of the country for foreign intelligence purposes, will expire on December 31, 2017, unless it is reauthorized.

3. The law has gained criticism from Congress and privacy advocates, who say that it collects data on American citizens and violates their privacy.

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About Alison DeNisco Rayome

Alison DeNisco Rayome is a Staff Writer for TechRepublic. She covers CXO, cybersecurity, and the convergence of tech and the workplace.

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