Last week, Director of the National Counterterrorism Center Christine Abizaid cited the October 7 Hamas attack while urging Congress to reauthorize a sprawling and controversial surveillance program that has been used to spy on U.S. citizens on U.S. soil. “As evidenced by the events of the past month, the terrorist threat landscape is highly dynamic and our country must preserve [counterterrorism] fundamentals to ensure constant vigilance,” Abizaid told the Senate Committee on Homeland Security, after making repeated references to Hamas, the Intercept reports. She was pushing the committee to reauthorize Section 702 of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, which enables the U.S. government to gather vast amounts of intelligence — including about U.S. citizens — under the broad category of foreign intelligence information, without first seeking a warrant. It is set to expire at the end of the year.
Abizaid said that Section 702 “provides key indications and warning on terrorist plans and intentions, supports international terrorist disruptions, enables critical intelligence support to, for instance, border security, and gives us strategic insight into foreign terrorists and their networks overseas.” But some civil liberties groups say now is the time to add dramatic oversight to 702 authority. “The government has completely failed to demonstrate that any of the privacy protections reformers have called for would impair national security, all while surveillance hawks in Congress have suffered a series of setbacks, so now we’re seeing people grasping at straws trying to turn everything into an excuse for reauthorization,” said Sean Vitka, senior policy counsel at the civil liberties group Demand Progress. The reforms being pushed by advocacy organizations include limits on the types of communication the FBI can search, the implementation of stringent warrant requirements to restrict FISA searches, and an end to the loophole that allows federal agencies to surveil Americans by purchasing data from private sector brokers. Rep. Jim Himes, the ranking Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee, said plans are underway to prepare a stopgap measure to preserve Section 702 as a long-term reauthorization containing reforms is hammered out.