White House, intel chiefs want to make internet spying law permanent

Then-Indiana Sen. Dan Coats on Capitol Hill last November

The White House and US intelligence chiefs Wednesday backed making permanent a law that allows for the collection of digital communications of foreigners overseas, escalating a fight in Congress over privacy and security. The law is set to expire on December 31 if Congress does not extend it or fails to pass the proposed bill.

Director of national intelligence Dan Coats, NSA director Mike Rogers, acting Federal Bureau of Investigation director Andrew McCabe, and deputy attorney general Rod Rosenstein testified at a Senate Intelligence Committee hearing on Wednesday, unified behind a legislative effort to ensure the government maintains its sunsetting foreign surveillance and data collection capabilities.

Sen. John McCain saw shades of dystopia during a hearing Wednesday.

Intelligence chiefs and senior administration officials are pushing for a surveillance law, set to expire at the end of the year, to be signed into law on a permanent basis.

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"It will be debating the fate of an authority - the FISA Amendments Act - that has helped thwart terrorist attacks around the world", Bassert said. A day later, President Trump's Homeland Security Advisor Tom Bossert penned an editorial for The New York Times throwing the White House's support behind efforts to reinstate Section 702 permanently.

"I have no control of where hearings go, but I know that (Section) 702 re-authorization is an important issue, so that's where my focus is going to be and that's where everybody is programmed to talk about", Burr said.

For more than a year, USA intelligence officials reassured lawmakers they were working to calculate and reveal roughly how many Americans have their digital communications vacuumed up under a warrant-less surveillance law meant to target foreigners overseas. The law was passed in 2008 during President George W. Bush's administration.

"We outline, in writing, what criteria we applied to a request to unmask. when we think we need to reference a USA person in a report, we will not use their name", Rogers said. "Second, it does not permit backdoor targeting of Americans, whose communications with foreign persons can be incidentally captured in the process".

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But the move to support the legislative effort was spurned as "out of touch" by the American Civil Liberties Union, who argued that despite the government's assertions that Americans are not directly targeted, that an unknown number of United States citizens - who are constitutionally protected from domestic spying - are caught up in the NSA's surveillance dragnet.

The ACLU said Trump's administration fails to provide information on how many Americans are impacted by government surveillance.

The officials are testifying because the committee leaders have to shepherd a bill through Congress before the end of the year to reauthorize a key National Security Agency surveillance tool that has been slammed by privacy advocates as ripe for abuse.

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