Published: Fri, January 12, 2018
World | By Melba Underwood

Congress Urged to Modify Surveillance Act to Protect Citizen's Privacy

Congress Urged to Modify Surveillance Act to Protect Citizen's Privacy

As Reason's Scott Shackford explains, the "bill House and Senate leaders are trying to push through would actually expand the Section 702 snooping authorities so that they can be used on Americans, secretly, for domestic purposes, without having to get a warrant". After an intense debate, the vote failed 183-233. The way that works is that the government has a broad interpretation of what a "foreign communication" (encrypted communications are automatically considered foreign, for instance) means, which allows it to then spy on most Americans, using this loophole. The Section 702 program was originally approved by Congress in 2008 to increase the government's ability to track and thwart foreign terrorists in the wake of the 9/11 attacks. While the government agency cannot use the law to target the communications of any American, or any person located inside the US, without constitutional protection, it has conceded that Americans living overseas could be swept up by "incidental collection". Abouts collection was halted earlier this year by agreement of the intelligence community and the secret court that oversees FISA law, after they said it was proving hard to narrowly tailor.

Congress reauthorized a controversial law that allows presidents to spy on American citizens.

The legislation still has to go through the Senate.

House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi called House Speaker Paul Ryan and urged him to pull the bill in light of the President's tweet and send it back to committee, a senior Democratic source told CNN, though she announced shortly thereafter that she would support the bill.

The Trump administration backed the extension of a surveillance program created to spy on foreign citizens outside the US, but President Trump himself didn't sound so insane about it - suggesting in a tweet Thursday that the law allowed illegal surveillance of his presidential campaign.

- Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) January 11, 2018In new Quinnipiac Poll, 66% of people feel the economy is "Excellent or Good".

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The tweet undercut an effort by some House Republicans hawks to ensure passage of a FISA Act renewal that Republican leadership had long assumed would pass without much of a fight. "This is the act that may have been used, with the help of the discredited and phony Dossier, to so badly surveil and abuse the Trump Campaign by the previous administration and others?" he added. But less than two hours later, the president appeared to reverse himself, telling lawmakers to "Get smart!" But the White House opposes that amendment and even put out a statement late Wednesday night reiterating its opposition.

The FBI and intelligence agencies say being able to query the database is essential to keeping America safe and the Trump administration had wanted the program to be reauthorized without change.

The revised law would restrict the use of data collected under Section 702 in some criminal prosecutions of US citizens. The USA RIGHTS amendment would have enacted meaningful reforms to Section 702, which are imperative given the government's historical abuse of surveillance authorities and the danger posed by future abuses.

In March 2017, the president infamously tweeted that Obama, who he called a "bad (or sick)" individual, had his wires tapped at Trump Tower.

The Prism program collects communications from internet services directly.

At Reason, Scott Shackford wrote that "it also codifies permission for the Federal Bureau of Investigation to access and use data secretly collected by Americans for a host of criminal cases that have nothing to do with protecting America from foreign threats".

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