Democratic and Republican lawmakers press for answers on FISA surveillance of U.S. citizens

A bipartisan assortment of House lawmakers are pressing for a hard inquiry into how much information of private U.S. citizens the U.S. government.
By Mae Owen | Jul 19, 2017
A bipartisan assortment of House lawmakers are pressing for a hard inquiry into how much information of private U.S. citizens the U.S. government is collecting in the course of national intelligence-gathering before the House agrees to renew the landmark intelligence-gathering law known as the Federal Intelligence Surveillance Act, or FISA. The law expires at the end of the year unless Congress votes to renew it, but questions about the scope of surveillance taking place under it are emerging on both sides of the aisle.
"Congress must reauthorize the program, but knowing the scope of incidental collection will help us determine what, if any, additional privacy protections are needed to ensure we honor the Fourth Amendment," said Rep. James Sensenbrenner Jr., a Wisconsin Republican who has been deeply involved in intel-related issues since writing the original Patriot Act in 2001. "If the administration does not disclose the scope of the intrusion, Congress should assume the worst and pursue more restrictive protections for Americans' data."
FISA sets parameters for the government's use of wiretapping and other intelligence-gathering measures, has a section that states that government agents can eavesdrop onand collect data ofcommunications between a U.S. citizen and someone who is outside the United States and is of another nationality.
Those agents are not allowed to target the U.S. citizen in their surveillance operation, nor can they target any person inside the United States. But anything the U.S.-based citizen or resident says to the targeted person will inevitably be collected, as well. And in some cases, the government agents may "unmask" the identity of the U.S. citizen or resident when they compile their reportsas happened earlier this year to Michael Flynn, Trump's fired national-security advisor.
The Obama administration was working on a written estimate of how much private information of U.S. citizens gets collected during government intelligence-gathering in its last days, but those efforts have been on hiatus since President Trump took office. Trump's incoming director of National Intelligence, Daniel Coats, as nixed the written estimate as being "impossible" to complete.


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