Accessibility links

Breaking News

White House Backs Renewal of Spy Law Without Reforms, Official Says

FILE - Demonstrators rally at the U.S. Capitol to protest spying on Americans by the National Security Agency in Washington, Oct. 26, 2013.

The Trump administration supports renewing without reforms a key surveillance law governing how the U.S. government collects electronic communications that is due to expire at the end of the year, a White House official said Wednesday.

"We support the clean reauthorization, and the administration believes it's necessary to protect the security of the nation," the official said on condition of anonymity.

The law, known as the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA), has been criticized by privacy and civil liberties advocates as allowing broad, intrusive spying. It gained renewed attention following the 2013 disclosures by former National Security Agency contractor Edward Snowden.

Portions of the law, including a provision known as Section 702, will expire December 31, 2017, unless Congress reauthorizes them.

2 surveillance programs

Section 702 enables two internet surveillance programs called Prism and Upstream, classified details of which were revealed by Snowden's leaks.

Prism gathers messaging data from Alphabet's Google, Facebook, Microsoft, Apple and other major tech companies that is sent to and from a foreign target under surveillance. Upstream allows the NSA to copy Web traffic flowing along the internet backbone located inside the United States and search that data for certain terms associated with a target.

Both Democratic and Republican lawmakers have said reforms to Section 702 are needed, in part to ensure the privacy protections on Americans are not violated. The U.S. House of Representatives' Judiciary Committee met Wednesday to discuss possible changes to the law.

Though FISA is intended to govern spy programs intended for foreigners, an unknown amount of communications belonging to Americans are also collected because of a range of technical and practical reasons.

U.S. intelligence agencies have defended such collection as "incidental," but privacy groups have said it allows for backdoor seizures of data without proper judicial oversight.