New surveillance bill will allow for warrantless spying on U.S. citizens
After debate came to a close, and a vote initialized, the Senate voted to pass a bill that will renew for another six years the NSA’s power to collect the private communications of U.S. citizens. The bill is known as the FISA Amendments Re-authorization Act of 2017, and was passed with in a 65-34 vote. The bill now makes it’s way to President Trump’s desk, where it awaits his signature, which will sign it into law.
This marks the end of a long road on it’s path to renewal, facing a strong vocal opposition by privacy activists. They argue that the bill inherently violates the Fourth Amendment, which guarantees a U.S. citizen the right of protection against unreasonable searches and seizures without a warrant. Last year, privacy advocates pulled off a rare victory, when the NSA announced it would discontinue its controversial surveillance practices that essentially found Americans being unknowingly spied on under the guise of national security.
Proponents of this bill argue that it is “one of the U.S. government’s most important counter terrorism and counterintelligence tools”, and it seems as if Congress agrees. While the evidence backing up the effectiveness of this counter terrorism tool, it still doesn’t take into account how it is a blatant violation of privacy. The issue of it is that it allows the NSA to surveil foreign spying targets, while picking up messages from Americans who weren’t the initial focus of an investigation.
The Electronic Frontier Foundation, a organization dedicated to advocating for internet and communication privacy, explained, “As the law is written, the intelligence community cannot use Section 702 programs to target Americans, who are protected by the Fourth Amendment’s prohibition on unreasonable searches and seizures. But the law gives the intelligence community space to target foreign intelligence in ways that inherently and intentionally sweep in Americans’ communications.”
Of those who opposed the bill in Congress, there was a rare show of bipartisan support. Republican and Democrat senators alike voiced their disapproval for the unconstitutional qualities of the bill. Republican Senator Rand Paul said “I rise in opposition to the government listening to your phone calls, reading your emails, or reading your text messages without a warrant. It doesn’t mean the government will never do this, but it means they would have to ask a judge.”
Democratic Senator Ron Wyden co-authored a letter with Senator Paul, calling for a bipartisan reform to the surveillance powers of the NSA, calling it an “end-run on the constitution”. The letter was also signed by Senators Michael Lee and Patrick Leahy.
FreedomWorks, a Tea Party political action committee, has voiced it’s concerns for privacy, urging President Trump to veto the bill. In a statement, they said, “We’re disappointed with the passage of the FISA Amendments Reauthorization Act and the misleading statements supporters of the bill made about the collection of communications, the process by which these records are obtained by the FBI, and the alternatives offered by privacy-minded members of the House and Senate like Justin Amash, Mike Lee, Rand Paul, and others.”