Jeramie Scott, senior counsel at the Electronic Privacy Information Center and director of the nonprofit’s Oversight Oversight Project, said Lahoud’s admission is further evidence that “the FBI’s backdoor search is ripe for abuse.” Congress should outlaw the practice and implement sweeping reforms to “control the surveillance state and protect the privacy and civil liberties of Americans,” he added.
Many Republicans in particular are skeptical of the FBI’s powers, with some saying Section 702 should expire at the end of the year. Defenders of the statute, meanwhile, argue that it is critical to national defense when it comes to tackling terrorism and cybersecurity threats posed by hostile nations such as China. The focus of many privacy hawks and civil libertarians this year has been on simply reducing the ability of the FBI to access intelligence gathered for counterintelligence purposes without a warrant. Sources with knowledge of the deliberations told WIRED that the Biden administration would prefer a sweeping reauthorization — that is, no change to the status quo — but added that that was becoming less and less likely.
The FBI is already using a reduced set of tools, stripped of many of the powers it once derived from the 9/11-era Patriot Act under Trump. These include the ability to gain “mobile” wiretapping that targets people rather than specific devices, and the power to target Americans suspected of ties to international terrorism without formally linking them to a specific organization — the so-called The “Lone Wolf” Amendment.
While the Republican Party, which now controls the House of Representatives, has historically had stronger national security credentials, the reality is that with Nancy Pelosi as Speaker and Adam Schiff dictating the House intelligence agenda, the FBI has far more control. Safety. In 2020, a coalition of bipartisan lobbying groups even accused it of being a cover for the FBI, accusing the bureau of relying on “secret assertions of inherent executive power” for surveillance they no longer have Congressional permission to do. The Trump era has seen major divisions between state spies and members of the Republican Party’s populist wing. After Democrats lose the House in 2022, one of the faction’s leaders, Jim Jordan, takes over the Judiciary Committee, which has jurisdiction over Judiciary Committee 702.
None of this bodes well for the FBI, whose further downsizing would please not only civil liberties advocates fighting for privacy reform, but also Republicans eager for a political victory over the so-called “deep state.”
In an email, Lahoud said that, as a former terrorism prosecutor, he recognized the “incredible value” of Section 702, but claimed that Americans had “rightfully” lost faith in the FBI. The documented FISA abuses should serve as a wake-up call — he added, calling on the intelligence community to say that reauthorizing 702 without reform would “not work” in the House.
LaHood’s disclosure came just a day after FBI Director Chris Wray announced that the FBI had previously obtained geolocation data belonging to Americans, which he said was obtained from data brokers. obtained commercially from others, bypassing the requirement to obtain a search warrant. While ostensibly legal, many privacy lawyers and academics still see this arrangement between the government and data collectors as an affront to the Fourth Amendment’s guarantee against unreasonable searches and seizures.
Rep. Zoe Lofgren, D-Calif., said the news underscored the urgent need for Congress to act. “The Constitution clearly requires the government to obtain a warrant before it can conduct a search,” she said. “Failure to do so violates our Constitution and jeopardizes the civil liberties of Americans.”
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