Communications, Russian hacking, and Section 702 reauthorization

In an earlier blog, I explored the fraught implications of the US intelligence community’s crisis of confidence and legitimacy, brought on in part by the fallout from politicization of intelligence information by both the Trump administration and its foes. In the near term, this battle is also certain to shake up the coming debate and struggle over reauthorizing Section 702 of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act. As I explained previously, Section 702 grants the US government the authority to target the communications of foreign individuals, assumed to be outside the US, for the purpose of gathering foreign intelligence. While forbidding the collection of information on individuals within the US (or from US citizens directly), the government can compel internet service providers and telephone companies to aid in the collection of information from targeted individuals. The US government, however, is allowed to obtain further information about US citizens “incidentally” caught up in the surveillance of foreigners. There are supposedly strict rules governing these probes (the process is overseen by the FISA court). Controversially, intelligence agencies have shared their information with domestic law enforcement officials, leading to investigations and indictments for purely domestic crimes.