US Senate OKs Spying Bill, Despite Privacy Worries

Bipartisan vote gives thumbs-up to reauthorization of FISA surveillance program
By Newser Editors and Wire Services
Posted Apr 20, 2024 10:30 AM CDT
Biden Expected to 'Swiftly Sign' Re-Upping of Surveillance Bill
Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-NY, looks over his notes at the Capitol in Washington on Thursday.   (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)

Barely missing its midnight deadline, the Senate voted early Saturday to reauthorize a key US surveillance law after divisions over whether the FBI should be restricted from using the program to search for Americans' data nearly forced the statute to lapse. The legislation approved 60-34 with bipartisan support would extend for two years the program known as Section 702 of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, per the AP. It now goes to President Biden's desk to become law. White House national security adviser Jake Sullivan said Biden "will swiftly sign the bill."

  • Proposal: The legislation will renew the program, which permits the US government to collect without a warrant the communications of non-Americans located outside the country to gather foreign intelligence.

  • Importance: US officials have said the surveillance tool, first authorized in 2008 and renewed several times since, is crucial in disrupting terror attacks, cyber intrusions, and foreign espionage and has also produced intel that the US has relied on for specific operations, such as the 2022 killing of al-Qaeda leader Ayman al-Zawahri. "If you miss a key piece of intelligence, you may miss some event overseas or put troops in harm's way," Sen. Marco Rubio, the top Republican on the Senate Intelligence Committee, said.
  • Dissent: A group of progressive and conservative lawmakers who were agitating for further changes had refused to accept the version of the bill the House sent over last week. The lawmakers had demanded that Majority Leader Chuck Schumer allow votes on amendments to the legislation that would seek to address what they see as civil liberty loopholes in the bill. Those six amendments ultimately failed to garner the necessary support on the floor to be included in the final passage.
  • Rejected ask: One of the major changes detractors had proposed centered around restricting the FBI's access to information about Americans through the program. Though the surveillance tool only targets non-Americans in other countries, it also collects communications of Americans when they're in contact with those targeted foreigners. Sen. Dick Durbin, the No. 2 Democrat in the chamber, had been pushing a proposal that would require US officials to get a warrant before accessing American communications.
  • But...: Members on both the House and Senate intelligence committees, as well as the Justice Department, warned that requiring a warrant would severely handicap officials from quickly responding to imminent national security threats. "I think that is a risk that we cannot afford to take with the vast array of challenges our nation faces around the world," Democratic Sen. Mark Warner, chair of the Senate Intelligence Committee, said Friday.

More here.

(More Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act stories.)

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