Biden DOJ Urges Congress To Renew Much-Maligned Surveillance Law

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A top Department of Justice (DOJ) official urged Congress Tuesday to renew a heavily criticized warrantless surveillance law, citing the potential consequences of the 9/11-era law expiring.

“What keeps me up at night is thinking about what will happen if we fail to renew Section 702 of FISA [Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act],” Assistant Attorney General For National Security Matthew Olsen said in remarks at the Brookings Institution. The law, known as Section 702, is a key provision under the FISA Amendments Act and was created in the aftermath of the Sept. 11, 2001 terror attacks in an effort to obtain communications from targeted foreigners, and in some cases, American citizens who have spoken with foreigners of interest.

Section 702 specifically permits the U.S. government to garner valuable intelligence by focusing on non-Americans overseas, who are using communications services based in the U.S., according to Olsen. It will expire in December unless Congress votes to renew it.

“Repressive and authoritarian regimes, like China, Russia, North Korea, and Iran, pose a range of threats to our country and our allies, while terrorist groups continue to plot violent attacks in secret. … Against this backdrop, renewing 702 is a national security imperative,” according to Olsen.

DOJ has made errors with the program in the past, which have eroded public trust, Olesen said. “Many of those mistakes resulted from misunderstandings by FBI personnel about the rules governing U.S. person queries.”

WASHINGTON, DC – JANUARY 27: (L-R) Assistant Attorney General for National Security Matthew G. Olsen
and U.S. Attorney General Merrick Garland attend a news conference to announce recent law enforcement action in transnational security threats case, at the U.S. Department of Justice headquarters on January 27, 2023 in Washington, DC. Three men have been arrested for a murder-for-hire plot that targeted a U.S. journalist and human rights activist of Iranian origin who has been a critic of Iran. Garland and Wray also took questions about the death of 29-year-old Tyre Nichols, who died from his injuries three days after being severely beaten by five Memphis police officers on January 7. The video of the police encounter is expected to be released later today. (Photo by Drew Angerer/Getty Images)

On Feb. 28, the Biden administration released a statement that they support reauthorizing Section 702.

While it can violate privacy and be misused, Section 702 is “a vital intelligence collection authority” and “a cornerstone of U.S. national security,” National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan said in a statement. (RELATED: FBI Agents Misused FISA Data To Surveil ‘Political Party,’ US Congressman, Audit Finds)

Sullivan said that it protects Americans everyday and is necessary to adequately address threats from China, Russia and others who want to harm American infrastructure.

Director of National Intelligence Avril Haines and Attorney General Merrick Garland released a joint letter on Tuesday urging Democratic and Republican congressional leaders in the House and Senate to renew the Section 702 authorities, according to The Washington Examiner.

“Section 702 has faced a sunset twice in the past decade. Both times Congress voted to reauthorize it, with strong bipartisan support,” Olsen said. “While 702 is more essential than ever before, the broad, bipartisan consensus supporting this , and other national security authorities, has frayed in recent years.”

There will likely be pushback from congressional Republicans, according to The Washington Examiner.

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