Homeland Security Adviser Urges Congress to Renew Controversial Surveillance Power

Homeland Security Adviser Tom Bossert speaks during a news briefing at the White House on Aug. 31.

Homeland Security Adviser Tom Bossert speaks during a news briefing at the White House on Aug. 31. Carolyn Kaster/AP

Tom Bossert warned letting Section 702 of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act sunset would have grave security consequences.

One of President Donald Trump’s top advisers called on Congress to reauthorize authorities that gives intelligence agencies the ability to collect and analyze communications of foreigners outside the U.S.

Homeland Security Adviser Tom Bossert said Section 702 of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act—set to expire in December—is the best means for intelligence agencies to monitor terrorist threats en masse given today’s internet-driven world.

“The terrorist threat isn’t going to sunset, so the authority shouldn’t either,” he said Wednesday at the Intelligence and National Security Summit.

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The provision in the FISA amendment act dates back to 2008 and previously reauthorized in 2012. While the intelligence community, including the National Security Agency and Central Intelligence Agency, has advocated for its renewal, Section 702 has critics in Congress and among privacy advocates. Critics contend the authority allows intelligence agencies to scoop up emails, text messages and other communications of Americans who communicate with foreign targets or mention potential targets in conversations with non-targeted foreigners.

How many Americans’ communications may have been caught up in such collections is unknown despite the fact that Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Ore., has repeatedly asked intelligence leaders for the information over the years.

In April NSA said it would stop collecting communications that merely mention a surveillance target, often called “upstream” collection, after a broad review of the program.

Though Bossert suggested Section 702 “should have sunset” in the past to allow congressional review, he said Congress “should be exceedingly pleased with how it’s been implemented and protected U.S. people against those abuses they foresaw.”

One of Bossert’s jobs will be educating new members of Congress and the American public about Section 702’s importance and its value to the intelligence community. The consequences of allowing Section 702 to sunset would likely be “criminals, terrorists and malefactors languishing and getting away” from U.S. authorities, he said.

“That is not acceptable,” Bossert said. “It is President Trump’s position that we should pass legislation on the Hill.”