Biden Administration Asks Congress to Renew Warrantless Surveillance Law

The Biden administration has formally urged Congress to reauthorize a high-profile warrantless surveillance program. 

The administration emphasized that security officials use it for a broad range of foreign policy and national security goals like detecting espionage. 

The Republicans in the House judiciary committee are expected to increase resistance to renewing the law. 

In a letter to top lawmakers, the administration said that allowing the provision to expire could sharply limit the intelligence on foreign threats and targets the government collects.

The law, named section 702, allows the government to collect the communications of targeted foreigners abroad by compelling service providers like Google to produce copies of messages and internet data, or networks like Verizon to intercept and turn over phonecall and message data.

The law is controversial. It allows the government to incidentally collect messages and phone data of Americans without a court order if they interacted with the foreign target, even though the law prohibits section 702 from being used by the NSA to specifically target U.S. citizens.

US Attorney General Merrick Garland and Director of the National Security Agency Avril Haines published a letter to Congress, requesting that the law remain. 

While the law’s reauthorization has seemingly been a matter of routine in the past, privacy advocates still urge the government to reconsider due to its ability to retrieve communications from Americans without a warrant or consent. 

Republicans on the House judiciary committee shared Donald Trump’s distrust of intelligence agencies and past FBI errors in using warrantless surveillance authority.

So the Biden administration moved to cast the provision as an essential tool to gather intelligence about terrorists, weapons proliferators, hackers, and other foreign targets located overseas who use telecommunication providers.

The letter to top lawmakers from the Attorney General and NSA Director came as the head of the justice department’s national security division and former FBI official Matthew Olsen made the case for reauthorizing section 702 in remarks at the Brookings Institute. 

Olsen said the value of the provision cannot be overstated, and without it, the U.S. would lose indispensable intelligence for our decision-makers and warfighters, as well as those of our allies. 

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