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:
“House votes on controversial FISA ACT today.” 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?
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) January 11, 2018
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.
During the segment, after claiming that Trump’s “woes began” with “surveillance of him,” Andrew Napolitano literally turns to the camera and says, “Mr. President, this is not the way to go.” pic.twitter.com/W8NrtDDP3I
— Matthew Gertz (@MattGertz) January 11, 2018
“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.
With that being said, I have personally directed the fix to the unmasking process since taking office and today’s vote is about foreign surveillance of foreign bad guys on foreign land. We need it! Get smart!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) January 11, 2018
“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:
It’s all about Trump, of course. Forget our 4th Amendment right to keep government out of our business.
— Kurt Nimmo (@kurt_nimmo) January 11, 2018
This morning, Trump unwittingly publicly tweeted against the Trump Administration’s position on FISA reauthorization and nobody believes anyone in the government will take their cues from him.
He’s totally unfit and Republicans like it that way.
— Matthew Yglesias (@mattyglesias) January 11, 2018
This morning the “Very Stable Genius” known as Donald Trump, torpedoed his own administration’s position on FISA after watching Fox News attack it.
— Brian Krassenstein (@krassenstein) January 11, 2018
— Kurt Nimmo (@kurt_nimmo) January 11, 2018
We know what FISA means. Obviously you didn’t, Trump. It is time for you to learn the nomenclature of our government and its processes.
— Cathy Grinner (@catgrinner) January 11, 2018
Get smart? You go first.
— deelane (@deelane) January 11, 2018
Two days ago you signed a memo regarding FISA, and earlier this morning you didn’t remember what it was?
— David Murray (@htmlbase) January 11, 2018
Have you finally realized how your tweets have consequences? Lots of confusion over direction. It read like FISA is a bad thing. You later confirmed you support it. You were right the first time. Blanket renewal was/is a bad idea. Reforms needed as part of the renewal.
— Mark Smith (@mjschv) January 11, 2018
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
Trump’s moronic, inconsistent tweets will dominate the FISA storyline today – it’s fun and easy – but much more significant is the key role leading Dems are playing in handing Trump (someone they claim is a lawless tyrant) vast, virtually unlimited domestic spying powers.
— Glenn Greenwald (@ggreenwald) January 11, 2018
.@RepAdamSchiff calls for House to postpone FISA re-authorization vote following Pres. Trump’s tweets: “We need more time to work on this bill, and I think that was only underscored this morning with the contradictory statements coming out of this administration.” pic.twitter.com/S7NgSADqmq
— ABC News Politics (@ABCPolitics) January 11, 2018
Thank you to the 183 Republicans and Democrats who voted yes on the Amash-Lofgren #USARIGHTS Amendment. We fell short today, but a large, growing coalition is standing up for the American people. We’ll never stop defending the #4thAmendment, our #Constitution, and all our rights.
— Justin Amash (@justinamash) January 11, 2018
Amash amendment to fix unconstitutional FISA program did not pass. SAD! pic.twitter.com/oN8s4uzyzy
— Thomas Massie (@RepThomasMassie) January 11, 2018
Who doesn’t know what FISA is? pic.twitter.com/pS7hai3kaY
— Red T Raccoon (@RedTRaccoon) January 11, 2018
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