House Reauthorizes FISA Despite Civil Liberties Concerns

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Jack Crowe Political Reporter
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The House of Representatives reauthorized the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) Thursday, absent a proposed amendment intended to protect civil liberties.

The bill, passed by the House 256-164, extends section 702 of the FISA Amendments Act for six years. The statute entitles intelligence agencies to collect the communications of foreigners abroad without a warrant, even when the individual in question was communicating with an American citizen.

The House rejected the so called “USA Rights” amendment, which, among other things, prohibits intelligence services from using information collected incidentally on Americans absent a warrant. The rejected amendment attracted politically diverse opposition as libertarian conservatives like Sen. Rand Paul of Kentucky joined liberal Democrats in attempting to combat perceived government overreach.

President Donald Trump appeared to contradict the official White House position Thursday morning, criticizing the program and suggesting it played a role in the surveillance of officials on his presidential campaign. Trump walked back the tweet roughly two hours later, drawing a distinction between “unmasking” – a term used to denote the practice of revealing the identity of Americans who communicate with foreign surveillance targets – and the surveillance of “foreign bad guys.”

Trump’s tweet came after White House Press Secretary Sarah Sanders clarified the White House’s opposition to increased privacy protections Wednesday night, telling reporters the amendment “would re-establish the walls between intelligence and law enforcement that our country knocked down following the attacks of 9/11 in order to increase information sharing and improve our national security.”

The bill will now be taken up by the Senate, which, according to Paul, is less likely to introduce privacy protections before reauthorizing the program.

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