US surveillance law may see no new protections for foreign targets

US surveillance law may see no new protections for foreign targets

Any reform of a controversial U.S. law allowing the National Security Agency to spy on people overseas will likely focus on its impact on U.S. residen

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Any reform of a controversial U.S. law allowing the National Security Agency to spy on people overseas will likely focus on its impact on U.S. residents, without curbing its use elsewhere.

Section 702 of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act expires on Dec. 31, and some digital rights groups are calling on Congress to overhaul the law to protect the privacy of residents of both the U.S. and other countries. Congress will almost certainly extend the provision in some form. 

But a congressional hearing on Wednesday focused largely on the NSA’s “inadvertent” collection of U.S. residents’ data, with little time given to the privacy concerns of people overseas.

Some lawmakers have pushed for changes in FISA that would restrict so-called backdoor searches of U.S. residents’ communications collected during foreign surveillance. But on Wednesday, 17 digital rights groups urged the EU to step in and push for new privacy protections for people outside the U.S.

There are many ways to reform FISA “to better protect human rights without undermining the security of U.S. citizens or others around the world,” the groups said in a letter to EU officials. “If no reforms — or reforms that only provide greater protections for U.S. persons — are passed this year, we believe the U.S. will have sent a clear message to the European Union that our rights are inconsequential.”

The groups asked EU officials to consider suspending their Privacy Shield cross-border data transfer agreement with the U.S. unless Congress overhauls Section 702.

Section 702 allows the NSA to spy on the communications, including internet traffic, of people living outside the U.S. and, in many cases, their communications with U.S. residents. FISA served as the authority for the NSA’s Prism internet surveillance and related programs revealed by NSA leaker Edward Snowden beginning in 2013.

Some lawmakers have suggested NSA surveillance of U.S. residents could violate the Fourth Amendment to the Constitution, which prohibits unreasonable searches. But most U.S. legal experts say the Fourth Amendment protections do not apply to people from other countries.

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