Mar 7, 2023 - Technology

Privacy leader calls for government surveillance program reforms

Image of PCLOB member Travis LeBlanc testifying before Congress

Travis LeBlanc, a member of the Privacy and Civil Liberties Oversight Board, testifying before the Senate Judiciary Committee. Photo: Zach Gibson/Getty Images

A member of a key government oversight board is pushing lawmakers to make reforms to an instrumental intelligence community surveillance power before it's potentially reauthorized this year.

Why it matters: Travis LeBlanc is the first Privacy and Civil Liberties Oversight Board (PCLOB) member to publicly comment on this year's reauthorization fight over Section 702 of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act.

  • PCLOB conducts oversight of privacy and surveillance matters involved in the government's counterterrorism efforts, such as FISA Section 702.
  • Lawmakers, government officials and advocates often rely on the board's insights to makes decisions during high-stakes Washington surveillance debates.

What they're saying: "Given what I have seen and what I know, I do have several concerns about a clean reauthorization without significant, common-sense reforms to safeguard privacy and civil liberties," LeBlanc said Monday during the State of the Net conference in Washington.

The big picture: Section 702 is on the chopping block as Congress stares down a reauthorization deadline at the end of the year.

  • The authority allows intelligence agencies to conduct warrantless surveillance of non-American citizens outside the U.S.
  • But Americans' digital communications with non-U.S. people overseas often get swept up in the collection process, and all of the data is stored in a searchable law enforcement database for several years after.

State of play: A group of House Republicans is already considering letting the surveillance authority disappear entirely, Politico reported last week.

  • Jake Sullivan, national security adviser at the White House, released a statement last week pushing Congress to reauthorize the "vital intelligence collection authority."
  • Meanwhile, the ACLU has issued an online petition calling on lawmakers to let Section 702 expire.

Details: LeBlanc reiterated previous PCLOB recommendations that the intelligence community develop a methodology for when it conducts surveillance and release details about how many U.S. persons' communications are incidentally collected during the process.

  • LeBlanc also said it might be better if law enforcement agencies are required to get a warrant before searching Section 702 databases for information about U.S. citizens.

What's next: PCLOB is expected to release a report later in the year detailing recommendations for how Congress and the intelligence community can better balance privacy rights into the 702 program, LeBlanc said.

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