House & Senate Just Approved NSA’s Invasive Warrantless Surveillance Powers – Will Trump Stop It?

Rafia Shaikh
Section 702 NSA Territorial Dispute

The intelligence agencies may be getting all the bad press following Snowden leaks, Wikileaks reports, and several contractor issues that have come to the front in the past few years, the United States government is happy to continue letting its spies off the hook and give them more powers. The Senate voted 65-34 to approve a six-year extension of the highly controversial Section 702 of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) on Thursday.

Section 702: Republicans, Democrats all in for letting NSA spy on innocent Americans

The controversial surveillance program that was built on the buzzword of national security following 9/11 was discovered to be a mass spying program that enabled the US government to snoop on American citizens and foreign nationals. The Section is controversial specifically because it enables the government to collect communications, including emails and phone records, of people on a foreign soil without a warrant. While the agencies continue to suggest it doesn't spy on US citizens, several leaks have proved otherwise.

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The proponents of FISA call this as "the single most important intelligence tool that exists to keep Americans safe." The opponents argue that under the disguise of targeting foreigners, the agencies routinely spy on American citizens without any oversight. A 2016 report had revealed that the NSA collected more than 151 million records of Americans’ phone calls in 2015 alone.

"The FBI can warrantless search data, and they can do that at any stage, even if a formal investigation is not open," Human Rights Watch said. The Electronic Frontier Foundation said that this section gives the US government authority to routinely collect and search "online communications of innocent Americans without a warrant through what are commonly called “upstream” and “PRISM”  (now called “downstream”) surveillance."

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.

Last week, this bill was passed by the House in a 256-164 vote. After the Senate's approval, the bill now moves to the White House where President Donald Trump is expected to sign the extension into law by Friday.

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