The warrantless surveillance law, otherwise known as Section 702 of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, gained mass attention back in 2013 when Edward Snowden leaked information that the NSA was using it to spy on Americans’ text messages, phone calls, emails, and Internet activity—all legally, and without warrants.
That law has just been passed for another six years by the U.S. House of Representatives, and is now in front of the Senate where it too is expected to pass.
Naturally, this has caused quite the uproar. It’s less a debate over the intent of Section 702, rather how this law is interpreted. The act allows the NSA to monitor the communications of foreigners located outside of the U.S to gather foreign intelligence—which is the law’s intended purpose. Most agree that this is a good thing, and information discovered via Section 702 equates to a large portion of the President’s daily intelligence briefings.
Where things fall apart, however, is in the domestic use of the law. Millions of Americans who were not specifically targets had their private information included in the NSA’s surveillance. And much of that data has reportedly been made available to the FBI and CIA.
“Because of these votes, broad NSA surveillance of the Internet will likely continue, and the government will still have access to Americans’ emails, chat logs, and browsing history without a warrant,” said David Ruiz, a staff attorney at the Electronic Frontier Foundation. “Because of these votes, this surveillance will continue to operate in a dark corner, routinely violating the Fourth Amendment and other core constitutional protections.”
Senators Rand Paul (R-KY), Michael Lee (R-UT), Patrick Leahy (D-VT), and Ron Wyden (D-OR) agree, presenting a bipartisan letter to colleagues stating that “this bill allows an end-run on the Constitution by permitting information collected without a warrant to be used against Americans in domestic criminal investigations.”
“Lawmakers have a responsibility to make sure Americans understand what the impact will be of the laws they pass,” Wyden wrote in The Cipher Brief. “Having support for the laws you pass is what makes a government legitimate.”
Section 702’s intended purpose is to protect American soldiers, keep U.S. decision-makers informed about the intentions of adversary nations, and help federal agents detect and prevent terrorist attacks on U.S. soil. However, the evaluation of 160,000 emails and instant messenger conversations collected under Section 702 between 2009 and 2012 (leaked by Snowden in 2013) showed that 90% of them were from online accounts that were not foreign surveillance targets, according to the Washington Post. And nearly half belonged to U.S. citizens or residents.
This alone indicates that this law is in need of serious reform to protect the privacy of American citizens; those citizens deserve to understand what information the NSA is collecting from them.
So how can you protect yourself?
Privacy solutions and applications have been skyrocketing in demand, and with news that this law will likely prevail for another six years—as well as the recent scrapping of Net Neutrality—that demand is only going to increase as people seek to take their online security and privacy into their own hands.
The best way to protect yourself against online surveillance is to use a trusted and secure VPN, or virtual private network. A VPN protects your privacy online by creating a secure “tunnel” on the Internet between the VPN server and your device, ensuring all information transmitted is encrypted. And the word “encrypted” here is the key; this allows you to remain anonymous online and protect your data from peeping Toms.
The way things are currently headed, every user in America should take the proper precautions against warrantless government surveillance. Because regardless of Wyden and his colleagues’ concerns, this bill looks set to pass.