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Big Tech Faces American Spies

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Big Tech Faces American Spies

A trade organization representing some of the world’s largest information technology companies (including Google, Amazon, IBM and Microsoft) says its members are expressing strong opposition to the Biden administration’s ongoing efforts to expand drastically a key surveillance authority of the United States government.

The US Senate is set to vote Thursday on legislation that would expand a global wiretapping program authorized under the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA). Passed by the House of Representatives last week, a provision in the bill, known as the American Intelligence and Security Reform Act (RISAA), threatens to significantly expand the scope of the program. of espionage, helping the government force the assistance of entirely new entities. business categories.

Legal experts argue that the provision could allow the government to recruit virtually anyone with access to facilities or equipment containing communications data, forcing “delivery personnel, cleaning contractors and utility providers,” among others, to help American spies to gain access to Americans’ emails. , phone calls and text messages, as long as one side of the communication is strange.

A global technology trade association, the Information Technology Industry Council (ITI), is now urging Congress to prevent passage of RISAA due to a particular provision that “dramatically expands the scope of entities and individuals covered” by the program, known as Section 702. The changes to the 702 program included in the House bill, ITI says, They would only serve to send customers to the United States and abroad flee to foreign competitors, convincing many that technology in the United States is too exposed to government surveillance.

The group’s members include several major equipment manufacturers, such as Ericsson, Nokia and Broadcom, as well as large cloud storage providers such as Google, Microsoft, IBM and Salesforce. “ITI’s position is that the provision should be eliminated,” the group’s communications director, Janae Washington, tells WIRED. “Our positions are based on the consensus of the members.”

Individual ITI member companies that WIRED contacted for comment on the legislation did not immediately respond or declined to comment.

The provision under fire stems from a ruling by the U.S. government’s secret surveillance court (the FISA court) that oversees the 702 program. The program is designed to target foreigners’ communications, including calls and emails to and from American citizens. To this end, federal statute specifies that the government can mandate the assistance of companies that fall into the category of what it calls “electronic communications service providers” or ECSPs.

Companies like Google and AT&T have typically fallen into this category as direct providers of the wiretaped services; However, the U.S. government has also taken steps in recent years to interpret the term more broadly as part of an effort to expand the list of entities whose assistance it can compel.

The FISA court, in a decision backed by its own review body, rejected the expanded definition and told the government that what constitutes an ECSP remains “open to reconsideration by branches of government whose constitutional jurisdiction and authority extend to the statutory review.”

More concisely: The court reminded the government that only Congress has the power to rewrite the law.

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