After 65-34 approval vote in the Senate and a 256-164 approval vote in the House, the controversial FISA Section 702 program has been reauthorized for six years.
FISA, the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, is a federal law that was implemented in 1978 surveil the communications of foreigners abroad in order to protect Americans from terrorist threats. Section 702 of FISA permits government officials to intercept communications of foreigners in other countries without a warrant, prompting a nationwide discussion on civil liberties and national security.
FISA provides not only for electronic surveillance without a court order, but also for warrantless physical searches, trap and trace devises, and access to a broad list of records for foreign intelligence reasons. The constitutionality of this legislation has been highlighted a plethora of times due to the privacy intrusion of the government without a warrant. Amendment 4 in the U.S. Constitution protects American citizens from unreasonable searches and seizures without a warrant and probable cause.
This legal loophole grants government officials with the power to monitor the activities of American citizens without a warrant, despite the claim for the intelligence committee that says otherwise. Rand Paul, the Republican Senator from Kentucky, claimed that innocent Americans inevitably get mixed up in that loophole. According to an unclassified report by the U.S. House of Representatives Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence,
“FISA Section 702 is not bulk collection and cannot be used to target Americans. It also cannot be used to target any person located inside the United States.”
After the Senate voted to approve the bill on Thursday, President Trump signed and officially reauthorized the bill,
“Just signed 702 Bill to reauthorize foreign intelligence collection. This is NOT the same FISA law that was so wrongly abused during the election. I will always do the right thing for our country and put the safety of the American people first!”
Senators Cory Gardner (Colorado), Steve Daines (Montana), Dean Heller (Nevada), Mike Lee (Utah), Rand Paul (Kentucky), and Dan Sullivan (Alaska) were the only Republican Senators who voted against the reauthorization of this legislation. The other 28 Senators were Democrats except the Independent Senator from Vermont, Bernie Sanders. Senator John McCain from Arizona was the only one that abstained from voting, despite his relentless support for this legislation in 2008.
Despite the vast majority of opposition coming from Democrats, various Republicans were also quick to vehemently condemn the legislation in online platforms. Congressman Justin Amash from Michigan vilified the legislation tweeting, “#FISA702 authorizes unconstitutional, warrantless spying on Americans” and Congressman Thomas Massie from Kentucky tweeted, “Put the F back in FISA, quit spying on Americans.”
Opposition didn’t only come from politicians from both sides of the aisle but also from national organizations like the American Civil Liberties Union and the Human Rights Watch have condemned this resolution. Last November, a coalition of 36 groups including the ACLU and HRW signed a letter expressing their opposition to this reauthorization. The letter emphasizes that this bill is not a reform measure, as proponents have claimed, but is a bill that will grant government authorities with more powers to access innocent American citizens’ communications.
The debate about civil liberties and national security has always been a prominent debate in the political stage; however, in this era of technology and an ever-increasing rise in terrorist threats, the debate has become even more significant. The 9/11 attacks in the World Trade Center led to the creation of numerous of government agencies that enhanced national security while diminishing the privacy of citizens. Agencies such as the TSA (Transportation Security Administration) and the United States Department of Homeland Security were established under the guise of protecting the American people from foreign terrorist attacks.
With the reauthorization of this bill, activists have once again reiterated the importance of privacy, civil liberties, and individual rights. From non-profit organizations to affiliates of all political parties, citizens have vocalized their opposition to this bill that firmly goes against American values.