John McCain at Senate hearing: We're living an 'Orwellian existence'

Raquel Nash
June 10, 2017

While the hearing was explicitly meant to focus on FISA, its timing - a day before former FBI Director James Comey will testify for the first time since his firing - led Senators to frequently derail conversation around the intended topic.

Privacy advocates have criticized the law though for allowing the incidental collection of data belonging to millions of Americans without a search warrant.

The committee will hear testimony from four senior officials: Director of National Intelligence Daniel Coats; Acting FBI Director Andrew McCabe; National Security Agency Director Adm. Mike Rogers; and Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein.

The push to make the law permanent may lead to a contentious debate over renewal of Section 702 in Congress, where lawmakers in both parties are deeply divided over whether to adopt transparency and oversight reforms. Burr asked NSA Director Mike Rogers, who replied that there had not been, and said that if Section 702 collection was not authorized, the NSA would be unable to identify and prevent critical threats to USA national security.

Sen. Tom Cotton, R-Ark., along with other Republicans, proposed on Tuesday a bill to make FISA Section 702 permanent.

"We can not allow adversaries overseas to cloak themselves in the legal protections we extend to Americans", White House Homeland Security Adviser Tom Bossert wrote in a recent New York Times opinion piece.

Top intelligence leaders are set to testify Wednesday at 10 a.m. ET before the Senate Intelligence Committee.

Section 702, which authorizes the collection of data on foreign persons overseas who use United States tech and communications services, was the legal basis for the so-called PRISM surveillance program, which reportedly taps data from nine tech titans including Apple, Facebook, Google, Microsoft and others.

It should go without saying: if the Intelligence Community is truly anxious about the privacy and civil liberties of ordinary Americans, officials will take the looming Section 702 sunset as an opportunity to give lawmakers the information they need to have an informed and meaningful debate about how government spying programs impact Americans' privacy.

Coats and other officials had previously told Congress they would attempt to share an estimate publicly before the statute expires. Democratic Sen. Ron Wyden asked Coats.

- A hypocritical move: from Neema Singh Guliani, ACLU Legislative Counsel: "President Trump thinks surveillance is just 'terrible.'".

Disclosures by former NSA contractor Edward Snowden in 2013 revealed the sweeping nature of 702 surveillance, prompting outrage internationally and embarrassing some USA technology firms shown to be involved in a program known as Prism. It lets the National Security Agency collect intelligence and communications from non-U.S. citizens outside the country.

Making the law permanent without changes would preclude codifying that change.

The White House has expressed its full support on the need for permanent reauthorization of Section 702, created "to address an intelligence-collection gap that resulted from the evolution of technology in the years after FISA became law in 1978".

Other reports by TheDigitalNewspaper

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