By Jackson Richman
Barring an expected filibuster by Senator Rand Paul (R-KY), Congress will soon reauthorize Section 702 the Federal Intelligence Surveillance Act and miss out on an opportunity to reform and modify its purpose.
The provision allows intelligence officials to spy on communications of noncitizens outside the United States.
Although this provision is important in the counterterrorism realm, it has caused for Americans to be monitored whether inadvertently or incidentally. To fix this issue, the intelligence should be narrowed to reform the inaccurate watch lists overseen by the FBI and the Department of Homeland Security, like the Terrorist Screening Database.
Using the intelligence tools available, officials can go through the long list and determine who should stay or be eliminated from the list. This targeted approach would enable more accurate lists of who should be closely monitored by U.S. law enforcement and who should not. It is killing two birds with one stone and would be a victory for civil liberties while focusing on potential mass shooters, terrorists, and other criminals.
While doing all of this would not be a silver bullet to fixing the watch lists, it would be a major step in which reform will also need to include tighter criteria. For one, there is no way to know if someone is on the Terror Watch List without being searched in the system while buying a gun, or doing something that requires a search of a name through the nation’s databases.
Vox‘s Dara Lind reported:
We have no idea who would actually get flagged for greater scrutiny when they applied for a gun. That’s because we have no idea who is actually on the “terrorism watch list.” There’s absolutely no way for someone to find out if she’s on it or not.
The ACLU has managed to win a little transparency when it comes to the no-fly list — one of the many lists drawn from the Terrorist Screening Database (TSDB), the list of 800,000 “known or suspected terrorists” that’s typically referred to as the master “terrorism watch list.”
When the ACLU sued on behalf of 10 people who believed they were on the no-fly list and demanded to be told why — some of whom were actually stuck outside the US — the government attempted to argue that whether or not they were actually on the list counted as a “state secret.”
Focusing on updating these watch lists through our intelligence capabilities would enable a scaled-back and more focused approach in being able to respect civil liberties while targeting those suspected of terrorism-related activities.
Unfortunately, like any out-of-the-box approach to combat today’s issues, this idea has not been proposed. Instead, Congress is set to reauthorize a controversial program with minimal reform.