Breaking: House Votes to Renew Controversial FISA Surveillance Program, Trump Contradicts Himself on Twitter

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In a victory for the Trump administration (and a devastating loss for liberty), the House on Thursday voted to renew for six years a controversial government surveillance program while voting down new limits on how authorities can use the information that is collected.

Despite having the support of a bipartisan group of lawmakers, the so-called Amash amendment (named for Justin Amash, R-Michigan) – also known as the USA Rights Act – has been rejected by the House.

From The New York Times:

The vote, 256 to 164, centered on an expiring law, Section 702 of the FISA Amendments Act, which permits the government to collect without a warrant from American firms, like Google and AT&T, the emails and other communications of foreigners abroad — even when they are talking to Americans.

Before approving the extension of the law, the House voted 233 to 183 to reject an amendment that proposed a series of overhauls. Among them was a requirement that officials get warrants in most cases before hunting for and reading emails and other messages of Americans swept up under the program.

The legislation still has to go through the Senate. But fewer lawmakers there appear to favor major changes to spying laws, so the House vote is likely the effective end of a debate over 21st-century surveillance technology and privacy rights that broke out in 2013 following the leaks by the intelligence contractor Edward J. Snowden.

Originally approved by Congress in 2008, the Section 702 program increases the government’s ability to track and thwart foreign terrorists. It was designed to spy on foreign citizens living outside the U.S. and specifically bars the targeting of American citizens or anyone residing in the U.S.

But  the program also sweeps up the electronic data of innocent Americans who may be communicating with foreign nationals – even when those foreigners aren’t suspected of terrorist activity.

“Section 702 was written to go after terrorists, but it is being used to go after Americans,”  Rep. Ted Poe, R-Texas, said Thursday morning on the House floor.

Intelligence officials have so far refused to tell Congress how many Americans have unknowingly had their personal communications collected under the program, writes USA Today:

Civil liberties groups fear that the government can use that data to go after Americans for crimes such as tax evasion or minor drug offenses that have nothing to do with terrorism.

“We think that is unconstitutional, hugely problematic, and we’re here to defend the rights of the American people,” Amash said.


Critics of the law say that U.S. intelligence agencies can still go after foreign terrorists while protecting Americans’ basic rights.

“Politicians who support broad, unchecked government surveillance authorities are once again rushing to approve a sweeping program at the expense of Americans’ personal liberty and constitutional rights,” Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Ore., a member of the Senate Intelligence Committee, said Wednesday in an op-ed.

Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., has vowed to filibuster the legislation passed by the House, but the Senate is ultimately expected to approve the bill.

The White House had said it supported the underlying surveillance bill but strongly opposed Amash’s amendment, The Hill reports:

Throughout the fall, privacy advocates on Capitol Hill have pushed for changes to the law that critics say are necessary to ensure Fourth Amendment protections for people swept up in surveillance. The push seemed to gain some momentum even over the objections of the Trump administration.


But House Judiciary Chairman Bob Goodlatte (R-Va.) has long said that a clean reauthorization of Section 702, without any changes, would not pass the House, where the powerful Freedom Caucus has banded together with privacy-minded Democrats to advocate for tighter restrictions on how government investigators can use data gathered under the program.

The issue was catapulted onto the front page amidst the controversy over “unmasking.” Republicans have long speculated that former national security advisor Michael Flynn was caught up in 702 surveillance and inappropriately unmasked by Obama administration officials.

Yesterday, the White House issued a brief statement on its opposition to any reforms to FISA. Here is the full statement:

The Administration strongly opposes the “USA Rights” amendment to the FISA Amendments Reauthorization Act, which the House will consider tomorrow.  This 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 Administration urges the House to reject this amendment and preserve the useful role FISA’s Section 702 authority plays in protecting American lives.

But this morning, President Trump posted a series of confusing tweets about the bill, prompting Democrats to ask for a delay in the House vote. Republican leaders refused.

Here’s what President Donald Trump, supposedly the person whose positions that White House statement represents, tweeted this morning:

That tweet appeared less than an hour after Andrew Napolitano appeared on Fox & Friends urging the president not to support FISA’s renewal and saying that FISA surveillance is what’s being used to snoop on and attack the president, reports Reason.

“That tweet sat there this morning for a good two hours, causing a lot of head-tilting for those of us who have been following the FISA saga. After two hours (and, I’m assuming, at least one frustrated conversation with Chief of Staff John Kelly), the president walked back his own tweet and called for Section 702’s renewal,” writes Nick Gillespie of Reason.

“Trump’s rather contradictory responses inadvertently highlights an attitude very common to politically powerful people. Trump clearly cares only about the abuse of surveillance authority to the extent that it affects him. He doesn’t care if the feds snoop on you or me. We might be harboring illegal immigrants or something,” Gillespie adds.

Trump’s Tweets were met with scathing commentary:

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