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WASHINGTON — On Friday, the U.S. House of Representatives voted to extend the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) Section 702 authority for two years. Prior to the vote, House members debated several amendments, including one designed to constrain the U.S. government's ability to search for and review Americans’ personal information without a warrant.

That amendment, which privacy-rights advocates favored, went down to defeat after a tie vote (212–212). It was supported by many members of the GOP’s Freedom Caucus and the Democrats’ Progressive Caucus.

Section 702 allows intelligence agencies to collect the phone calls, emails, text messages and other communications of almost any non-American located outside of the United States. But massive amounts of information on U.S. residents is also swept up and searched. This is due to a loophole that allows spy agencies to perform “backdoor” queries of the database from this dragnet-like monitoring of phone and internet conversations that involve both foreign and domestic speakers.

Free Press Action Vice President of Policy and General Counsel Matt Wood said:

“The House just missed a major chance to curb spy agencies’ abuse of people’s civil liberties and civil rights. The failure to adopt the warrant requirement while extending and expanding Section 702 just put more weapons in the arsenal of powerful law enforcement and intelligence agencies. Extending Section 702 authority with this bill as passed would keep the backdoor-search loophole open, allowing U.S. intelligence agencies to continue jeopardizing the privacy rights of everyone and disproportionately harming vulnerable communities, including racial- and social-justice protesters and other dissident voices.

“No government entity should have such oppressive surveillance powers. This unconstitutional authority allows intelligence agencies to continue to sift through personal data even when those searches don’t relate to a warranted criminal investigation. This is an especially grave concern because recent administrations, both Republican and Democratic alike, have unjustly targeted people of color and political dissidents. Reauthorizing Section 702 without the strong reforms narrowly voted down today allows for unchecked spying on people across America.

"The fight to curb government surveillance has been an uphill battle to say the least, but this week we have seen a bipartisan effort to put in place strong privacy protections that would have reined in government spying and protected our rights. It’s a disgrace that these members’ concerns lost out in such a close vote, as surveillance proponents rushed to bless these unconstitutional government spying powers. We’re especially appalled that members like Representatives Jeffries, Lieu, Pelosi and Raskin voted against the warrant amendment, which lost by a single vote.

“Reauthorizing Section 702 without adopting the critical reforms offered by House Judiciary Committee members on both sides of the aisle has fundamentally weakened our Fourth Amendment right to privacy. It’s a shame that more members of Congress didn’t stand up for the rights of their constituents and support significant changes to FISA authority.”

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