Google has reportedly joined a list of more than 30 companies and advocacy groups in signing a letter to Congress requesting reforms of Section 702 of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA). In short, FISA allows the U.S. government to "target" communications – including communications on web-based platforms and phone calls – of non-citizens for surveillance. It is important to note that the companies are not lobbying to halt a renewal of the terms set by Section 702 of FISA – which is set to expire this year. Instead, they are asking for changes to be made in order to account for privacy concerns both of foreign companies whose data passes through stateside servers and for the privacy of those who have not engaged in any suspicious behavior – whether citizens or not.
The U.S. House of Representatives correctly asserts that FISA has played an important role in stopping terror attacks. The body of representatives cites at least one incident, in particular, in which the act allowed an attack to be halted because it allowed surveillance on an email account belonging to a non-U.S. citizen. FISA also requires a court to "approve 'targeting procedures'" as a way to make certain that only non-citizens are targetted and that procedures are undergone to remove any information about Americans that may have been inadvertently collected. Meanwhile, Congress has also expressed concerns about who can or is being targetted under Section 702 of FISA. The companies – which include other big names in technology such as Amazon, Facebook, Snap, and Microsoft – are asking for two big changes to the way the government can conduct surveillance. First, they say that more oversight is needed for parts of the surveillance itself. They also request that more allowance is given for reporting on the requests for data that the government has made. Google, for its part, has been disclosing many such requests in its annual Transparency Report, though the company would obviously love to be able to provide more details to ease the minds of all concerned. They'd also like to change the language of FISA, adding more specificity and limiting things so that only those who are suspected of "wrong-doing" can be surveilled
Any debate weighing the benefits of targeted surveillance against the concerns associated with misuse is guaranteed to be a complex issue. With the current direction of other government agencies, in terms of rules regarding similar concerns with net neutrality, that debate will also stir up more than its fair share of controversy. However, both sides of the argument contain many valid points and, with Section 702 of FISA set to expire by the end of 2017, now is certainly a good time to start the discussion.