The US House of Representatives passed Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA), renewing the National Security Agency’s warrantless Internet surveillance program for six years, with minimal changes. The final vote, 256 to 164, focused on the expiring law, known as Section 702 of the FISA, that permits the Government to collect, without a warrant, communications from United States’ companies, such as Google and AT&T, of foreigners abroad, including when those targets are talking to U.S. citizens. Several privacy groups have warned that this would expand the NSA’s surveillance powers. Most lawmakers expect it to become law, although it still requires Senate’s approval and President’s signature. As media reports, before the voting took place, the House rejected an amendment that would have imposed a series of new safeguards. The proposal included a requirement for officials to obtain warrants before hunting for, and reading, emails and other private messages of Americans that were ‘swept up under the surveillance’. Advocates of these changes reminded of the preservation of the Fourth Amendment privacy rights in the Internet era. However, intelligence and law enforcement officials argued that it would limit security officials from gaining access to information the government already possessed.
Privacy and data protection are two interrelated Internet governance issues. Data protection is a legal mechanism that ensures privacy. Privacy is usually defined as the right of any citizen to control their own personal information and to decide about it (to disclose information or not). Privacy is a fundamental human right. It is recognised in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, and in many other international and regional human rights conventions. The July 2015 appointment of the first UN Special Rapporteur on the Right to Privacy in the Digital Age reflects the rising importance of privacy in global digital policy, and the recognition of the need to address privacy rights issues the the global, as well as national levels.