The fight over a critical loophole in U.S. surveillance law may not be resolved in Congress before the year ends, but the Trump administration appears to have no qualms about keeping it open, even if the law expires.
The law, known as Section 702 of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA), is set to expire at the end of the 2017 calendar year unless renewed by lawmakers. Given its supporters in Congress, renewing Section 702 at the cost of American privacy seemed inevitable, but now lawmakers have their hands full trying to speed a controversial tax bill into law before the calendar turns over.
As The New York Times reports, “executive branch lawyers have now concluded that the government could lawfully continue to spy under the program through late April without new legislation,” a revelation that is sure to be just as controversial as the surveillance law itself, which is harshly criticized by privacy advocates for its practice of sweeping up the communications of American citizens while spying on foreign targets.
U.S. government officials have long dodged the question of how many Americans might be affected by Section 702 surveillance, but that hasn’t stopped people like Oregon Senator Ron Wyden from posing the question.
Speaking with the Times, Brian Hale, spokesperson for the Office of the Director of National Intelligence, argued that because the law was recertified in April of this year that it is authorized to continue for 12 months after that date, a provision that would trump the law’s planned sunset date at the end of 2017.