Senate Votes To Reauthorize NSA Spying Program

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While most Congressional observers are focused on the battle to avert a weekend government shutdown (an outcome that’s looking increasingly likely), the Senate on Thursday quietly passed an extension of the NSA’s spying surveillance program, sending the bill to the president’s desk a week after the House voted to authorize the controversial plan.

Even President Trump voiced scepticism about reauthorizing the bill in a tweet earlier this year, where he claimed it had helped the Obama administration spy on the Trump campaign, although he infamously flip-flopped later.

As the Hill pointed out, the vote comes after an (almost) tension-filled hour on the Senate floor earlier this week where opponents tried, but failed, to mount a filibuster to force additional debate on the legislation, with both sides spotted lobbying key holdouts. Opponents rallied against the bill ahead of Thursday’s vote, arguing the legislation is being rushed through.

“The American people deserve better than the legislation before us. …The American people deserve better than warrantless wiretapping,” said Sen. Martin Heinrich (D-N.M.).

He added that senators should “consider the gravity of the issues at hand and to oppose reauthorization until we can have a real opportunity for debate and reform.”

Critics of the controversial Section 702 of the FISA Act – the measure that was reauthorized by the Senate today and is expected to be signed into law despite Trump’s reservations – said it allows the FBI to spy on Americans without first obtaining a warrant. Though some surveillance experts have disputed this.

As the Wall Street Journal explained, Section 702 underpins a wide range of electronic collection against foreign targets overseas and has been referred to by officials as critical to national security. The law was set to expire Friday unless Congress voted to reauthorize it.

Opponents of the bill say the secrecy surrounding intelligence agency operations has made it prone to abuse. One of the most prominent critics of reauthorization is Thomas Drake, an NSA whistleblower who raised concerns about the domestic spying initiatives that were revealed by Edward Snowden – except he raised his concerns through official channels.

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The vote passed in a 65 to 34 vote with bipartisan support, meaning quite a few members of the Democrats “resistance” ended up aligning with the hated Donald Trump.

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Supporters only needed 51 votes on Thursday, giving them more breathing room, compared with the 60 votes needed on Tuesday’s procedural hurdle.

Per the Wall Street Journal, Majority Leader Mitch McConnell exhorted his colleagues to back extending the program ahead of Thursday’s vote, calling it “one of the most important tools” for national security officials. By passing the bill, Congress rejected efforts by a coalition of conservative Republicans, civil libertarians and liberal Democrats to enact new privacy protections for Americans who are inadvertently caught up in surveillance by American intelligence agencies.

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