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FISA Surveillance Powers at Stake as Senate Deadline Approaches

FISA Surveillance Powers at Stake as Senate Deadline Approaches

Apr 19, 2024

FISA Surveillance Powers at Stake as Senate Deadline Approaches

Senate leaders are in a race against time to come to a consensus on the reauthorization of a surveillance tool that has been the subject of heated debate due to its implications for U.S. citizens' privacy. With the midnight deadline on April 19 fast approaching, disagreements persist within the chamber regarding Section 702 of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA), a program pivotal to national security yet controversial for its warrantless spying powers.

Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) acknowledged the urgency and the challenges on the Senate floor, stating, “We’re still trying to see if there’s a path to getting this bill done quickly, but disagreements remain on how to proceed. Our work is not done. So, we’re going to keep at it.”

The bill in question, the Reforming Intelligence and Securing America Act, seeks to extend Section 702 for two years. “The threats to American security are flashing red,” said Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.). “Our adversaries are as intent as ever on sowing chaos and violence, and a vote to send this critical legislation back to the House today is a vote to make their job easier. The Senate must not let Section 702 go dark.”

While Section 702 permits warrantless surveillance on foreign nationals overseas, the FBI's misuse of this tool to surveil U.S. citizens has sparked bipartisan concern. Senator Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) expressed his apprehension, labeling the bill “a very substantial and dangerous expansion” of surveillance powers. He pointed out that the legislation would increase the types of service providers the government could force to hand over communications of U.S. citizens linked to foreign individuals.

“You don’t have to change the targeting rules to threaten Americans’ privacy,” Wyden argued. “If the government thinks that its foreign targets are communicating with people in the United States, they can go right to the source—the WiFi, the phone lines, servers, servers that transmit or store those communications.”

Similarly, Senator Josh Hawley (R-Mo.) cautioned against the bill’s implications, suggesting it could “turn landlords and computer repairmen into spies.”

The debate also extends to the issue of warrants. While there is bipartisan support for requiring agencies to obtain a warrant to view communications of U.S. citizens, Senator John Cornyn (R-Texas) claimed this would “decimate the effectiveness of Section 702.” He defended the bill as a "reform bill" that implements several adjustments to current practices without the warrant requirement.

Despite the contention, the White House stands with proponents of the bill. National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan commended the Senate leadership for their swift action. “This legislation...ensures that the U.S. government has the tools to protect our national security while dramatically enhancing protections for privacy and civil liberties,” Sullivan stated.

If the Senate manages to pass the bill before the deadline, it will proceed to President’s desk for signing. The coming hours are crucial as the Senate determines the fate of the surveillance powers at hand.

The Reforming Intelligence and Securing America Act

The Epoch Times Article


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