Surveillance by the United States Government

Throughout 2017, the US continued to carry out large-scale warrantless intelligence surveillance programs without transparency or oversight. Authorities used Section 702 of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act to target non-citizens (except lawful permanent residents) outside the country for warrantless communications monitoring and to “incidentally” gather large numbers of communications to or from people in the US.

Section 702 was scheduled to end at the end of 2017 unless Congress renewed it; at time of writing federal appeals courts had differing conclusions about the constitutionality of certain aspects of the law.

US surveillance of global communications under Executive Order 12333 remained shrouded in secrecy, with neither Congress nor the courts providing meaningful oversight. In January, the government disclosed procedures for the National Security Agency (NSA) to share data with domestic law enforcement agencies obtained by surveillance under the order. Documents disclosed to Human Rights Watch during the year revealed a Defense Department policy under the order sanctioning otherwise prohibited forms of monitoring of people inside the United States designated as “homegrown violent extremists.” The Defense Department has not revealed how it designates “extremists” or what types of monitoring may result.

In May 2017, the Trump administration approved a proposal that asks US visa applicants for social media handles and accounts from the past five years as part of its enhanced vetting process. The US also continues to assert broad authority to search electronic devices and copy data at the border without any suspicion of wrongdoing.

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