Views expressed in opinion columns are the author’s own.

With one bill, our government could fight the drug crisis, stem extremist recruitment and help protect Americans. Instead, Congress, mired in partisan deadlock, seems set to reject these measures while damaging our national security.

This all starts with Section 702, a part of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act. This measure allows the intelligence community to surveil foreigners living outside the United States who are believed to have foreign intelligence. It’s set to expire April 19 — parts of it can be extended to 2025 — and a bill to reauthorize it just barely passed the House. Reauthorization in a similarly divided Senate could be an uphill battle.

We simply can’t afford to let Section 702 expire. Instead, the Senate should reauthorize it with a package of common sense reforms, such as additional agent training and increased watchdog funding. This will protect Americans’ privacy while ensuring public safety.

Many in the House refused to reauthorize Section 702, believing it grants the intelligence community too much surveillance power. Similar objections will undoubtedly remain in the Senate. Instead, they would require agents to seek warrants any time Americans’ data is accessed under Section 702. While privacy is essential, this approach demands too much red tape.

Section 702 doesn’t give agents a blank check for invasive surveillance. It simply allows agents to search through legally-collected data for foreigners living outside the U.S. with links to foreign intelligence. 

Just last year, the FBI found an American in contact with a foreign terrorist through 702 searches, who posed a threat to critical U.S. infrastructure. The FBI was able to immediately begin investigating, potentially preventing a devastating attack on our nation.

There’s a better way to balance privacy and security. Passing reforms to the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court while retaining Section 702 should help Americans feel confident they’re not being spied on without hindering our national security.

These reforms should start with oversight. The court should be empowered to act as a watchdog, not a rubber-stamp commission. Expanding its budget and adding more staff will help the court perform its duties thoroughly and quickly and avoid backlogged cases. While the delays involved with warrant-mandated surveillance are currently too great, expanding the court could reduce these delays enough to make warrant-mandated surveillance viable in the future.

Intelligence agencies need a strong check on their powers, not courts buried in paperwork. Giving the court more funding will enable it to hold these agencies accountable and ensure the rights of Americans are upheld.

The court should also be integrated into existing audit practices, which should also occur more frequently. Currently, the Department of Justice reviews Section 702 queries every two months to ensure legality. These audits should occur more often, and the court should also participate. One agency shouldn’t review the intelligence community while another creates rules for them — both should participate in the process to ensure agents follow protocol and to determine if that protocol is necessary and constitutional.

Moreover, Section 702 queries should have limits. Accidentally or not, agents have previously accessed data of members of Congress, journalists and campaign donors without proper oversight from senior officials. Agents shouldn’t be able to queue up data from American politicians, media organizations and major nonprofits without specific authorization from higher-ups in their agency. These intelligence tools were always designed to target foreign adversaries, not representatives of our core institutions. Any investigation into these individuals must meet a higher standard.

This ensures data gathered under Section 702 will not be used to play partisan politics. Rogue agents wishing to spy on their political enemies would have to gain approval from a series of senior officials to even begin a search, and would also be subject to audit from the justice department. Additional approval layers will catch these irregularities before harm is done. These additional restrictions will help keep our intelligence community focused on its goal to defend us from external threats, rather than rooting around in the private lives of Americans.

Amending the bill to reauthorize Section 702 does have some inherent risk. Since the House has already passed a measure reauthorizing Section 702, any reforms the Senate makes would have to be reapproved by the House. However, with these changes to improve privacy and accountability, an amended Senate bill is likely to win over opponents. Furthermore,  reauthorizing Section 702 is paramount to ensuring national security, so its current supporters likely won’t turn their backs on it.

On any given day, our nation is forced to confront a myriad of security threats. Houthi rebels targeted American ships, Chinese agents infiltrated businesses and academia and Russian hackers attempted to undermine our government and democracy

We can only hope to combat these threats through effective, accurate, and up-to-date intelligence. By reauthorizing 702 and reforming the federal intelligence act’s provisions, the Senate  can ensure our government has the tools it needs to take on these threats, along with necessary safeguards to uphold our rights.

Ben Dodge is a freshman computer science major. He can be reached at