Right before the lawmakers left for their holiday break, the controversial section 702 of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) was extended to January 19 so the debate to extend, reform or repeal was moved to next year.
The legislation was introduced following 9/11 and it allows the government to collect communications of foreigners overseas without a warrant, where often American citizens’ messages are collected, as well.
“The Trump administration, meanwhile, believes that the authorization doesn’t really expire until April, leaving lawmakers several months to either reform or strengthen the provision. Hanging in the balance is the legal framework the government largely relies on to conduct mass surveillance of foreigners and Americans who communicate with them. Which makes it all the more concerning that the fight over Section 702’s future has taken place largely in the dark,” writes Wired.
Right before the holiday break, several Republicans announced that they would be voting against any bill that reauthorizes the FISA and were pushing for a short-term reauthorization of section 702 so the issue could get the attention it deserves in 2019.
“I would vote against any spending bill that has permanent reauthorization,” said Sen. Rand Paul of Kentucky to The Washington Examiner.
“I will actively oppose and filibuster any long term extension of warrantless searches of American citizens,” tweeted Paul on the 20th.
He also said that the U.S. intelligence community “needs more oversight, not less.”
Sen. Mike Lee of Utah expressed similar sentiments.
“A permanent reauthorization of Section 702 would be completely unacceptable,” said Lee.
Last Tuesday, The House Rules Committee released a draft bill reauthorizing the program.
Senators Ron Wyden, D-Ore., Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., and Steve Daines, R-Mont all pushed for this decision to be moved to next month so that it could be reformed appropriately.
“This bill is an eleventh-hour attempt to sneak an unchecked warrantless surveillance program through Congress,” said Wyden. “The legislation posted late yesterday is a clear step backward for Americans’ rights. It does nothing to check the warrantless backdoor searches of Americans’ communications. The bill also fails to codify the current prohibition on ‘abouts’ collection, in which communications entirely among innocent Americans can be swept up if they reference a target’s email address.”
“We need serious, meaningful reforms to Section 702 to protect our privacy,” said Leahy.
The short-term extension was also a smart move because according to a spokesman for the Office of the Director of National Intelligence government agencies could still legally continue to abide by Section 702.
“If Congress did not reauthorize the FISA Amendments Act by year-end, Section 404(b) of that statute makes very clear that ‘any order, authorization, or directive issued or made under title VII of [FISA] … shall continue in effect until the date of the expiration of such order, authorization, or directive,” said Brian Hale, Office of the Director of National Intelligence spokesman. “So while the orders would be in effect for a short time after the end of the year, the fact is that we would need to be planning for the end of the program, and that cannot be done in a matter of days – to effect that takes some time, and is not like turning on or off a light-switch.”
Author’s note: We have said this before, but this bill is no longer needed. It was put in place after 9/11 giving government spy agencies more power to fight terrorism. But, it is not the government’s job to spy on its citizens. This measure deserves more time to be debated.
Editor’s note: This really needs to be reconsidered. I’ve said this many times before – it is not the job of government to surveill its citizens.