The White House and intelligence leaders Wednesday backed a proposed bill that would make Section 702 of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act permanent. The section allows the government to collect digital communications of foreigners outside the United States that go through American phone or internet providers.

Sen. Tom Cotton, R-Ark., along with other Republicans, proposed a bill Tuesday to make FISA Section 702 permanent. The law is set to expire Dec. 31 if Congress does not act.

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Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats, who spoke on behalf of other intel leaders at the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence hearing Wednesday, said Section 702 should be permanent.

“Given the importance of Section 702 to the safety and security of the American people, the administration urges Congress to reauthorize Title VII of the FAA promptly and without a sunset provision,” intel leaders said in a joint statement Wednesday.

Meanwhile, Thomas P. Bossert, homeland security and counterterrorism adviser to President Donald Trump, wrote an op-ed for the New York Times published Wednesday, stressing the need to make the law permanent.

“It will be debating the fate of an authority — the FISA Amendments Act — that has helped thwart terrorist attacks around the world,” Bassert said. “We cannot allow adversaries abroad to cloak themselves in the legal protections we extend to Americans.”

What is FISA Section 702?

Republican senators said Section 702 is used for counterterrorism purposes and “is one of the most effective tools available to the intelligence community” to fight threats against the United States. The law was passed in 2008 during President George W. Bush’s administration.

"This program has provided our national security agencies vital intelligence that has saved American lives and provided insights into some of the hardest intelligence targets,” Cotton said in a statement. “We've got to reauthorize this program in full and for good, so we can put our enemies back on their heels and keep American lives safe from harm."

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Republicans and the White House stress Section 702 applies to communications of foreigners outside the United States.

“First, it does not permit the targeting of Americans,” Bassert said in the op-ed. “Second, it does not permit backdoor targeting of Americans, whose communications with foreign persons can be incidentally captured in the process. National security officials may use search terms or identifiers associated with Americans, such as an email address, to query the information lawfully acquired using Section 702 authority.”

Privacy advocates, including the American Civil Liberties Union, have argued against Section 702.

“After months of criticizing the government for allegedly spying on his presidential campaign, President Trump is now hypocritically endorsing a bill that would make permanent the NSA authority that is used to spy on Americans without a warrant,” ACLU legislative counsel Neema Singh Guliani said in a statement.

The ACLU said Trump’s administration fails to provide information on how many Americans are impacted by government surveillance.

“The government likely holds over a billion communications collected under Section 702, and it is long overdue for Congress to finally pass reforms to curb this invasion of Americans’ privacy,” Guliani said.