Republicans and Dozens of Democrats in House Reauthorize Mass Surveillance Without Reform

Posted on January 12, 2018

A new piece from The Intercept reports that, in a vote of 256 to 164, the US House of Representatives approved a renewal of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act’s Section 702 provisions, forcing a vote in the Senate. Extending a suite of NSA spying programs without reform for an additional six years, the reauthorization of Section 702 would empower the NSA to continue operations which, though nominally intended to target foreigners, routinely sweep up the communications of millions of American citizens.

While the programs under Section 702, which include (among others) the Upstream and PRISM programs revealed by the disclosures of whistleblower Edward Snowden, are intended to collect the communications of foreign nationals which transit through US-based infrastructure (Upstream) or reside on the networks of US-based tech companies (PRISM), Section 702 permits the NSA to keep any communications by Americans intercepted incidentally. This loophole has given rise to a practice known as “backdoor searches,” in which the NSA deliberately targets a foreigner in correspondence with an American of interest so that that American’s data can be collected as a result, circumventing the Section 702 prohibition on targeting Americans. Most worryingly, not only has Section 702’s language further been contorted to allow the surveillance of communications exclusively between US citizens, but FISA permits the FBI to query any data on Americans acquired through Section 702 programs without the need for a search warrant.

Prior to the passage of the measure, the House killed a privacy-protecting amendment proposed by Representative Justin Amash (R-Mich.) by a vote of 183 to 233, including 55 Democrats who voted it down. Among other stipulations, the amendment would have required the FBI to get a warrant before querying Section 702 program databases for information on US citizens.

The final fate of the reauthorization now rests with the Senate. Although Senators Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) and Rand Paul (R-Tenn.) have vowed to filibuster the bill, considering the bipartisan support it enjoyed in the House, ultimately defeating the Section 702 renewal will likely prove a daunting task.

Of interest to Illinois voters, while Senator Dick Durbin has committed himself to opposing any reauthorization lacking reforms, Senator Tammy Duckworth has indicated her support for a reauthorizaiton of Section 702 mass surveillance programs without reform. With the expiration of Section 702 set for January 19 in the absence of congressional renewal, concerned constituents looking to lobby for Senator Duckworth to withdraw her support have little time to act with a Senate vote almost certain to be scheduled for next week. Senator Duckworth’s office can be reached at the following numbers.

Senator Tammy Duckworth

Chicago office: 312-886-3506

Washington office: 202-224-2854

To best ensure your voice is heard, it is advised to call the Chicago office on Friday through Monday, and her Washington office on Tuesday through Thursday.

You can read the full story from The Intercept here.