Section 702 is the controversial and much-abused mass surveillance authority that expires in December unless Congress renews it. EFF and others have been working hard to get real reforms into the law and have opposed a renewal, and now, we’re hearing about a rushed attempt to tie renewal to funding the government. We need to stop it.
In September, President Biden signed a short-term continuing resolution to fund the government preventing a full shutdown. This week Congress must pass another bill to make sure it doesn’t happen again. But this time, we understand that Congress wants to vote on a “clean” renewal of Section 702—essentially, kicking the can down the road, as they’ve done before.
The program was intended to collect communications of people outside of the United States, but because we live in an increasingly globalized world, the government retains a massive trove of communications between Americans and people overseas. Increasingly, it’s this U.S. side of digital conversations that domestic law enforcement agencies trawl through—all without a warrant.
This is not how the government should work. Lawmakers should not take an unpopular, contested, and dangerous piece of legislation and slip it into a massive bill that, if opposed, would shut down the entire government. No one should have to choose between funding the government and renewing a dangerous mass surveillance program that even the federal government admits is in need of reform.
EFF has signed onto a letter with a dozen organizations opposing even a short-term reauthorization of a program as dangerous as 702 in a piece of vital legislation. The letter says:
“In its current form, this authority is dangerous to our liberties and our democracy, and it should not be renewed for any length of time without robust debate, an opportunity for amendment, and — ultimately — far-reaching reforms. Allowing a short-term reauthorization to be slipped into a must-pass bill would demonstrate a blatant disregard for the civil liberties and civil rights of the American people.”
For months, EFF and a large coalition of civil rights, civil liberties, and racial justice groups have been fighting the renewal of Section 702. Just last week, a group of privacy-minded Senators and Representatives introduced the Government Surveillance Reform Act, which would introduce some much-needed safeguards and oversight onto a historically out-of-control surveillance program. Section 702 is far too powerful, invasive, and dangerous to renew it cleanly as a matter of bureaucratic necessity and we say that it has to be renewed with massive reforms or not at all. Sneaking something this important into a massive must-pass bill is dishonest and a slap in the face to all people who care about privacy and the integrity of our digital communications.