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Decoding 702: What is Section 702?

Decoding 702: What is Section 702?

Why can the U.S. government collect my emails? 

Under authority ostensibly granted by something called Section 702, the U.S. government routinely collects and searches the online communications of innocent Americans without a warrant through what are commonly called “upstream” and “PRISM”  (now called “downstream”) surveillance. 

Section 702 is a surveillance authority passed as part of the FISA Amendments Act in 2008. That law amended the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act of 1978.

Section 702 is supposed to do exactly what its name promises: collection of foreign intelligence from non-Americans located outside the United States. As the law is written, the intelligence community cannot use Section 702 programs to target Americans, who are protected by the Fourth Amendment’s prohibition on unreasonable searches and seizures. But the law gives the intelligence community space to target foreign intelligence in ways that inherently and intentionally sweep in Americans’ communications.

Currently, Congress has to renew Section 702 every few years. It was last renewed in 2012 and is set to expire at the end of 2017. If Congress doesn’t pass a bill to reauthorize Section 702, the surveillance programs under the law will have to shut down.

Congress has begun debating whether and how to reauthorize Section 702. The House and Senate Judiciary Committees, as well as the Senate Intelligence Committee, have already held hearings on the issue. 

Many in the civil liberties community are hopeful that the looming Section 702 sunset will force lawmakers to consider the privacy concerns of their constituents and rein the surveillance programs under the law.

Contact your representatives in Congress today and tell them to support efforts to end the warrantless spying on innocent Americans.

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