House bill on Section 702 would enlarge government’s power to spy on journalists

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An open laptop sits on a table in a laundromat, in front of several washing mashines

Under a new House bill reauthorizing and expanding Section 702 of FISA, anyone from a landlord to a laundromat could be required to help the government spy. Public domain image via flickr.

On Friday, the House of Representatives agreed to reauthorize Section 702 of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, the controversial law that has allowed intelligence agencies to spy on Americans’ emails, text messages, and phone calls without a warrant.

But as Caitlin Vogus, deputy advocacy director for Freedom of the Press Foundation (FPF) explains in The Guardian, the House didn’t just vote to reauthorize the act; its bill would also vastly expand the surveillance the government can conduct.

Vogus writes:

Section 702 in its current form allows the government to compel communications giants like Google and Verizon to turn over information. An amendment to the bill approved by the House vastly increases the law’s scope. The Turner-Himes amendment – so named for its champions Representatives Mike Turner and Jim Himes – would permit federal law enforcement to also force “any other service provider” with access to communications equipment to hand over data. That means anyone with access to a wifi router, server or even phone – anyone from a landlord to a laundromat – could be required to help the government spy.

Given the long history of abuse of Section 702, such as the FBI using it to spy on American journalists and protesters, it would be naive to think the government wouldn’t abuse new powers. The Senate should reject the House bill.

Read the full column here.

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