Representative Justin Amash and a bipartisan coalition of 42 lawmakers failed to block a six-year extension of a controversial spying measure.
Washington D.C. – On Thursday the U.S. House of Representatives voted in favor of a six-year extension of section 702 of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA), a controversial law which allows the federal government to spy on American citizens. A bipartisan coalition of civil liberties advocates opposed the bill, but failed to stop the measure from passing with a vote of 256-164. Senator Rand Paul has now threatened a filibuster during the upcoming Senate vote.
The program has been extended several times since its inception. As 2017 came to a conclusion, lawmakers approved a short extension until January 19. The six-year extension was passed as part of a bill introduced by California Republican Devin Nunes. Nunes’ bill – The FISA Amendments Reauthorization Act of 2017 – allows the FBI and NSA to access Americans’ private communications without requiring a warrant first. Instead, the agencies only need notify the secret FISA court that it intends to access the data and communications of a suspect.
Amash introduced an amendment that would replace the text of Nunes’ bill with the USA RIGHTS Act, an alternative bill sponsored by Senators Rand Paul and Ron Wyden and Representatives Amash, Ted Poe, and Zoe Lofgren. The Amash amendment would have added a warrant requirement to Section 702. The amendment was overwhelmingly voted down with 183 votes against and 233 in favor. Nunes’ bill contains a provision which would require a court order (not a warrant), but only under the narrowest circumstances. A court order would only be necessary if FBI agents already have an open criminal investigation into the American whose data they want to access, and if there is found to be no valid national security concern.
At a press conference on Wednesday, Senator Rand Paul acknowledged that the chances of beating the bill were better in the House. “The privacy movement is stronger in the House than the Senate. Maybe we can learn from you guys,” the Senator stated. Paul now has the opportunity to stall the bill in the Senate.
According to the Electronic Frontier Foundation, Section 702 of FISA
allows the NSA to collect emails, browser history and chat logs of Americans. Section 702 also allows other agencies, like the FBI, to search through that data without a warrant. Those searches are called ‘backdoor searches.’
The New York Times notes that the NSA began collecting Americans’ international phone calls and emails without a warrant immediately after the 9/11 attacks as part of the Stellar Wind program. Once the public became aware of the program in 2008, Congress codified the program into law by passing section 702 of FISA.
The FBI and NSA claim they need section 702 in order to prevent another 9/11-like attack. However, in 2013 whistleblower Edward Snowden revealed that Section 702 also authorizes two Internet surveillance programs known as PRISM and Upstream. PRISM gathers messaging data sent via Google, Facebook, Microsoft, Apple, and other tech companies, while Upstream taps into the so-called backbone of the Internet to gather data on targets.
The USA Rights Act was just voted down (with assistance from Dems, sadly). The vote on Trump’s expanded warrantless surveillance bill is now imminent. This is your last chance to call Congress and tell them to vote “No” on the 702 FISA re-authorization. https://t.co/h2hoUKz1OS
— Edward Snowden (@Snowden) January 11, 2018
Prior to the vote, the LA Times Editorial Board noted,
Critics persuasively argue that this would allow the FBI to sift through information about Americans in many other investigations without judicial approval.
Former judge and well-known public speaker, Andrew Napolitano, also published a scathing opinion piece on Fox News discussing an overlooked element of this battle. Napolitano’s warnings are even more disturbing in light of the passage of the bill.
Hidden beneath the “Fire and Fury” controversy is the muffled sound of the Trump administration and Republican congressional leaders plotting the enactment of an addition to FISA that would permit the use of evidence of crimes in federal court even when it is discovered during mass surveillance authorized by general warrants.
If enacted, this radical, unconstitutional hole in the Fourth Amendment would bring the country full circle back to the government’s use of general warrants to harass and prosecute — general warrants so odious to our forebears that they took up arms against the king’s soldiers to be rid of them.
Americans should also take note that 178 Republicans and 55 Democrats voted against the Amash amendment to require a warrant. These people do not care about granting the American people even the slightest protection from the prying eyes and ears of Big Brother. Also, the Democrats could have swung the vote in favor of the warrant requirement. This should be a glaring example that when it comes down to the issues which affect all Americans – taxation, war, surveillance, civil liberties, economic enslavement – the two parties are always going to work together. They are not enemies, but rather different factions of the same party. As the great comedian George Carlin used to say, “It’s a big club and you ain’t in it!”