Earlier this week, it was revealed that a judge on the secretive Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) Court ruled that some of the FBI’s “backdoor” searches of communications intercepted by the NSA violated the rights of Americans. Although Judge James E. Boasberg issued his ruling in October 2018, the ruling was classified for one year. Defending Rights & Dissent has long opposed the FBI’s backdoor searches and renews its call for Congress to eliminate them once and for all.
Backdoor searches are enabled by §702, which was passed as part of the FISA Amendments Act in 2008. This statute is purportedly to enable the intelligence community to gather foreign intelligence without a warrant. However, the NSA, as part of its mass surveillance programs, “incidentally” intercepts the communications of US persons. Communications of millions of Americans are as a result stored in databases, which domestic law enforcement has access to. The searching of these databases are known as backdoor searches. Although these law enforcement agencies would otherwise need a warrant to intercept such communications, they claim their “backdoor searches” are not covered by the Fourth Amendment.
Judge Boasberg’s ruling did not do away with backdoor searches. It ruled that some of the FBI’s searches were overly broad and thus violated the Fourth Amendment. While we appreciate this as a victory for civil liberties, Congress needs to take proactive measures to close the backdoor loophole.
Defending Rights & Dissent also notes that in spite of a newfound appreciation for whistleblowers, Edward Snowden, who helped reveal the NSA’s abuse of §702 to collect the data of US persons, still remains in exile due to a desire by the US government to prosecute him under the “Espionage Act.” Not only must warrantless searches of US person’s communications be ended, but all charges against Snowden must be dropped.