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Don't Pass Surveillance Legislation in the Dark
12 January 2018, 03:25 | Damon Campbell
Don't Pass Surveillance Legislation in the Dark
Senate leaders are planning to send to the president's desk next week a bill to reauthorize the government's authority to conduct foreign surveillance on USA soil, despite opposition from privacy advocates and mixed messages from President Donald Trump himself, who questioned his own administration's support for the program Thursday morning.
Technically, the program authorized under Section 702 of the FISA Amendments Act doesn't allow the USA government to collect emails, texts and other data about Americans.
Republican leaders in both the House and the Senate had counted on enough moderate Democrats and Republicans to stick together to extend the legal basis for the surveillance program, with only minimal changes. Rand Paul, R-Ky., has vowed to filibuster the legislation passed by the House, but the Senate is ultimately expected to approve the bill.
Rep. Adam Schiff of California, the top-ranking Democrat on the House intelligence committee, said Trump's tweets were "inaccurate, conflicting and confusing".
The GOP-led House renewed Section 702 of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA), which allows the government to spy on foreigners overseas by a vote of 256 to 164. "Today's vote is about foreign surveillance of foreign bad guys on foreign land", he wrote. "Men aren't angels. We need to make sure somebody is watching and there are checks and balances".
Following the vote, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell made a motion to concur in the House amendment to the bill, and filed cloture on that motion. He was referring to the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, which lets spy agencies collect information on foreign targets overseas.
White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders on Wednesday night issued a statement asking lawmakers to vote against the legislation with the changes.
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The bill also would temporarily stop federal agents from collecting communications that mention a surveillance target - but aren't to or from that target - until the Intelligence Community presents Congress with new procedures for gathering information.
The debate now rests in the hands of the Senate, where it could prove even more hard to impose new checks on US surveillance - though some lawmakers say they'll try. "A concerted campaign of fear-mongering and misinformation pushed this flawed bill over the line", Wyden said in a statement following the vote.
They're pushing an alternative that would require the government to have a warrant before it snoops through the data to investigate Americans for ordinary crimes.
"FISA stands for the foreign intelligence surveillance act and I would submit that if we don't put the F back in FISA it becomes ISA and Americans should know that the eyes are on them", Rep. Tom Garrett (R-Virginia-5) said.
The reason that critics of the law are so upset is that the program essentially gives law enforcement agencies a "backdoor" to search Americans' data without having to get a warrant. Asked about the president's conflicting tweets, Mr. Ryan said Mr. Trump has always been in support of foreign surveillance. "The Constitution really isn't guaranteed to everyone around the world, it's guaranteed to us here", he said.
Section 702 is due to expire next week, though intelligence officials say it could continue until April. FISA is unconstitutional, and can potentially be abused by any president that wants to violate the privacy of an American citizen.
"It's a Democrat hoax that was brought up as an excuse, for losing an election", he said. It would require investigators to get a warrant to look at Americans' information, but only after the government has started an investigation.
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