A report compiled by members of the United States House Intelligence Committee says that agents of the Federal Bureau of Investigation should be required under the law to obtain a “probable cause warrant” before scouring the database of a controversial foreign intelligence surveillance program for information related to domestic crimes.
The Section 702 program, authorized under the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA), has a history of being abused by the FBI, the intelligence committee says, necessitating a “complete review” of the program and “the enactment of meaningful reforms.”
The program, which targets the communications of foreigners overseas with the compulsory assistance of US telecom providers, has been the target of significant scrutiny on Capitol Hill, with federal lawmakers frequently airing concerns about its capacity to be turned against the American public, whose texts, emails, and internet calls are collaterally intercepted by the US National Security Agency in unknown quantities each year.
The intelligence committee report, first obtained by WIRED, labels the program as essential to combating nuclear proliferation and thwarting terror attacks, adding its been employed successfully as well to investigate ransomware targeting US infrastructure, the war crimes of Russian soldiers in Ukraine, and “malign investments” by hostile actors that pose key economic security risks to the United States and its allies.
Still, the program, according to the committee, has been “abused by those who swore to support and defend the American people—in particular, the FBI.”
“Our report outlines reforms necessary for FISA’s reauthorization,” says representative Mike Turner, the intelligence committee’s chair, while claiming the US is currently “at its greatest risk of a terrorist attack in nearly a decade.” Adds Turner: “We cannot afford to let this critical national security tool expire.”
In total, the House intelligence committee lists 45 improvements that it wishes to include in coming legislation that would enable the 702 program to continue, including criminal liability for 702 leaks involving an American’s communications; enhanced penalties for federal employees who violate FISA procedures; and a new court-appointed counsel able to scrutinize FISA application by the government aimed at surveillance of a US citizen.
The report was finalized by a working group composed of the committee’s majority Republican members: Turner, who hails from Ohio, and Representatives Darin LaHood and Brian Fitzpatrick of Illinois and Pennsylvania, respectively.