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CDT Warns of ‘Trojan Horse’ Expansion of FISA Surveillance Hidden in Intelligence Bill

(WASHINGTON)–The Center for Democracy & Technology (CDT) today is warning that the House Intelligence Committee (HPSCI) bill (HR 6611) to reauthorize Section 702 of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (“FISA 702”) would dramatically expand surveillance powers. It is expected to be voted upon by the full House of Representatives on Tuesday.

Section 504 of the HPSCI bill would subject entities that can access equipment on which communications are transmitted or stored to orders to disclose those communications to the government. Because that class of entities is so large, Congress had specifically rejected subjecting them to FISA 702 when it enacted the law in 2008.

Greg Nojeim, Director of CDT’s Security and Surveillance Project, said:

“The HPSCI bill sneaks in a stunning expansion of FISA 702 surveillance powers that would impact a wide variety of businesses and could upend some of the basic infrastructure on which they operate. 

This Trojan Horse would take FISA 702 orders beyond the realm of communication services (like email and messaging providers) and pull in anyone who could access equipment on which communications might be sent or stored. 

This could include data centers that merely rent out computer space, hotels and Airbnb owners, and even the local library or coffee shop. Including this provision would seriously impact American businesses far outside the communications and tech sector.

The bill puts U.S. businesses such as data centers and companies that rent out physical space for their clients’ computer servers at a competitive disadvantage compared to their foreign counterparts. Who would want to use a data center that puts their data at risk of ready, warrantless disclosure to the U.S. government?”

Because FISA 702 authorizes the government to compel “assistance” from companies in whatever form is needed to acquire communications, businesses could also be forced to restructure basic operations to build access points to communications and data they previously never accessed. 

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The Center for Democracy & Technology (CDT) is the leading nonpartisan, nonprofit organization fighting to advance civil rights and civil liberties in the digital age. We shape technology policy, governance, and design with a focus on equity and democratic values. Established in 1994, CDT has been a trusted advocate for digital rights since the earliest days of the internet. The organization is headquartered in Washington, D.C., and has a Europe Office in Brussels, Belgium.