Section 702 of Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act
Section 702 is a valuable program that allows the government to intercept the communications of foreign targets overseas who have information that's important to our national security. The president believes that we can do more to ensure that the civil liberties of U.S. persons are not compromised in this program. To address incidental collection of communications between Americans and foreign citizens, the president has asked the attorney general and DNI [director of national intelligence] to initiate reforms that place additional restrictions on the government's ability to retain, search, and use in criminal cases, communications between Americans and foreign citizens incidentally collected under Section 702.
Section 215 of the Patriot Act
Under Section 215 of the Patriot Act, the government collects metadata related to telephone calls in bulk. We believe this is a capability that we must preserve, and would note that the Review Group turned up no indication that the program had been intentionally abused. But, we believe we must do more to give people confidence. For this reason, the president ordered a transition that will end the Section 215 bulk metadata program as it currently exists, and establish a program that preserves the capabilities we need without the government holding the data.
This transition has two steps. Effective immediately, we will only pursue phone calls that are two steps removed from a number associated with a terrorist organization instead of three. The president has directed the attorney general to work with the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court so that during this transition period, the database can be queried only after a judicial finding, or in a true emergency. On the broader question, the president has instructed the intelligence community and the attorney general to use this transition period to develop options for a new program that can match the capabilities and fill the gaps that the Section 215 program was designed to address without the government holding this metadata, and report back to him with options for alternative approaches before the program comes up for reauthorization on March 28. At the same time, the president will consult with the relevant committees in Congress to seek their views, and then seek congressional authorization for the new program as needed.
National security letters
In investigating threats, the FBI relies on the use of national security letters (NSLs), which can be used to require companies to provide certain types of information to the government without disclosing the orders to the subject of the investigation. In order to be more transparent in how the government uses this authority, the president directed the attorney general to amend how we use NSLs to ensure that nondisclosure is not indefinite, and will terminate within a fixed time unless the government demonstrates a need for further secrecy.
We will also enable communications providers to make public more information than ever before about the orders they have received to provide data to the government. These companies have made clear that they want to be more transparent about the FISA, NSLs, and law-enforcement requests that they receive from the government. The administration agrees that these concerns are important, and is in discussions with the providers about ways in which additional information could be made public.