White House advisory board report calls for reforms to intelligence gathering procedures News
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White House advisory board report calls for reforms to intelligence gathering procedures

The US President’s Intelligence Advisory Board (PIAB) released a report Monday in support of the reauthorization of Section 702 of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) while also recommending restrictions to prevent abuse.

Section 702 is a controversial provision of FISA that allows for “the targeting of persons reasonably believed to be located outside the United States to acquire foreign intelligence information.” While Section 702 was initially meant solely for international intelligence, it has become a key part of the FBI’s domestic intelligence strategy since communications from US citizens are sometimes collected incidentally. Section 702 is up for reauthorization at the end of 2023.

The report discusses the efficacy of collections made under Section 702, the effectiveness of the current oversight procedures to prevent abuse within the system and the overall value of allowing collection of data under Section 702 for US nationals. The report states, “It is no exaggeration to state that signals intelligence, made possible by Section 702 information, is likely to inform every substantial national security decision our leaders make, now and in the future.” However, the report cautions that there may be a need for further oversight of the program, stating:

While FBI [the Federal Bureau of Investigations] has put in place reforms since 2021 that have led to significant improvements in compliance noted by DOJ and ODNI, the Board deems them insufficient to ensure compliance and earn the public’s trust. There is both a need and an opportunity for FBI to strengthen its internal compliance regime.

The report also reveals that “[US] person queries in 2021 constituted more than half of [the FBI’s] overall queries that year,” but it critiques calls for warrants to be required for Section 702’s use in collecting US data, saying:

Getting a warrant, or any other court order, prior to each U.S. person query conducted by an authorized user of an intelligence agency is not only impractical because there would be too many requests to process, preventing intelligence agencies from detecting threats in a timely manner, it is unjustified.

The report did find that queries made under Section 702 in the wake of the January 6th insurrection and protests over the police killing of George Floyd may have been “noncompliant,” however, it does conclude that US data gathering is largely done appropriately since 2021 when reforms were made.

The report’s recommendations include the revocation of the FBI’s ability to use Section 702 collection procedures in non-national security-related crimes, the application of more stringent pre-approval processes and the creation of an external review board within the Office of the President.

National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan and Principal Deputy National Security Advisor Jon Finer welcomed the report, saying, “We agree with the unanimous conclusion reached by this group of independent, deeply experienced experts that failure to reauthorize Section 702 could be ‘one of the worst intelligence failures of our time.” The FBI also shared support for the report’s conclusion.

Data collection programs under Section 702 include the Planning Tool for Resource Integration, Synchronization and Management (PRISM) and Upstream. These programs collect communications obtained from internet service providers such as Apple and Google and data collected from phone companies such as AT&T and Verizon. PRISM and Upstream first came to light in 2013 after whistleblower Edward Snowden made their existence public.

Section 702 has been found to be used in a “noncompliant” manner on many occasions by watchdogs such as New America. The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) and the Wikimedia Foundation have been challenging Section 702 since its inception. However, the US Supreme Court has declined to hear the case.