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Mar 17

FISA Section 215: A Debate about Its Legality, Usefulness and Civil Liberties

On June 1, 2015, Section 215 and two other critical authorities under the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) expire, unless Congress reauthorizes them. Section 215 of FISA, the provision under which the bulk telephony metadata program is authorized, first came to national attention after former government contractor Edward Snowden illegally disclosed hundreds of thousands of highly classified documents from the government and gave some to The Washington Post and The Guardian newspapers. Those leaks resulted in a national and international debate about the legality of the telephone metadata program and privacy. Caught flatfooted by the Snowden leaks, the Obama Administration declassified lots of surveillance information under the FISA, scaled back collection, adopted some interim reforms, and sought the recommendations of two outside groups, the President’s Review Group and the Privacy and Civil Liberties Oversight Board (PCLOB). The House and Senate have debated and voted on 215 reform bills, but none became law.

As the Congress prepares to take up 215, what effect does the rise of ISIS and al Qaeda-inspired attacks have on the upcoming legislative debate on Section 215? What are the legal and policy arguments for keeping, reforming, or abandoning Section 215? What safeguards are in place, if any, that protect American citizens from the government monitoring their phone calls? And what happens if Congress does not renew the telephone metadata program under 215?

More About the Speakers

Steve Bradbury
Partner, Dechert LLP, and former Head of the Office of Legal Counsel, U.S. Department of Justice

Laura Donohue
Professor of Law, Georgetown Law, and Director, Georgetown’s Center on National Security and the Law

Hosted By

Charles "Cully" Stimson Charles "Cully" Stimson

Manager, National Security Law Program and Senior Legal Fellow Read More