Security

New privacy bill could limit warrantless NSA surveillance

A bipartisan bill from the House of Representatives wants to end the National Security Agency's ability to eavesdrop on Americans without a warrant.

On Thursday, a bipartisan group of lawmakers from the US House of Representatives are expected to introduce legislation that will overhaul the National Security Agency's (NSA) warrantless internet surveillance program to offer American citizens more privacy, according to a Reuters report.

The existing law, known as Section 702 of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, allows US intelligence agencies to listen in on and store digital communications from foreign suspects living outside of the US. However, in 2013, former NSA contractor Edward Snowden revealed that the program also incidentally includes communications of Americans, such as if they communicate with a foreign suspect living overseas. Those communications are also then subject to searches without a warrant from the FBI.

Section 702 is set to expire on December 31, and civil liberties groups say that this new bill is the best chance Congress has to reform it, Reuters noted.

The new bill would require the FBI to gain a search warrant to access Americans' communications in these instances, according to Reuters. However, this restriction would not apply to requests of communications or data in cases involving counterterrorism or counter-espionage.

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That last provision angered civil liberties groups, several of which sent a letter this week stating that they would not support a law that includes a "backdoor search loophole" and does not require a warrant for all American communications collected under Section 702.

The new legislation would renew the program for six years, and would codify the NSA's recent decision to stop collecting Americans' emails and texts to foreign contacts mentioning surveilled individuals. However, that rule would end in six years as well, Reuters noted, meaning that the NSA could potentially continue that practice in 2023.

This is not the only Section 702-related bill in existence: Earlier this year, Republican senators introduced legislation to renew the law without changes and make it permanent. This position is backed by both the White House and intelligence agencies. However, Reuters noted that that bill is expected to face resistance in the House, where several Republicans have said they oppose renewal without major changes.

Several other senators are also planning to introduce bills involving Section 702 reforms in the coming weeks as well.

After the Snowden leaks, the Pew Research Center conducted a study on Americans' views on privacy issues. Some 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 3 big takeaways for TechRepublic readers

1. New bipartisan legislation from the US House of Representatives would overhaul the National Security Agency's warrantless internet surveillance program to offer American citizens more privacy.

2. The new bill would require the FBI to gain a search warrant to access Americans' communications in these instances, except in cases involving counterterrorism or counter-espionage.

3. More bills related to Section 702 reform are expected in the coming weeks.

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Image: iStockphoto/batak1

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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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