WASHINGTON — On Thursday, the House rejected legislation that would have put in place robust privacy protections for people in the United States and Americans abroad, and instead voted to renew a program allowing the government to spy on them without a warrant.
The bill extends the government’s authority under Section 702 of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA), which would have expired on Jan. 19. While the targets of Section 702 surveillance are supposedly foreign entities, the program allows for dragnet-like monitoring of domestic phone and internet conversations. It permits the government to conduct back-door searches into a massive NSA database containing private information about people in the United States.
Privacy advocates including Free Press Action Fund supported the bipartisan counter-legislation introduced by Rep. Justin Amash (R–Michigan) and Rep. Zoe Lofgren (D–California). The USA Rights Act would have amended FISA by mandating that agencies obtain proper warrants before searching the Section 702 database.
Free Press Action Fund Government Relations Manager Sandra Fulton made the following statement:
“This is the last thing Congress should be doing. Renewing the law that keeps the backdoor-search loophole open will allow U.S. intelligence agencies to continue spying on the communications of people in the United States, forfeiting the essential privacy rights of so many.
“No government entity should have such oppressive surveillance powers. This unconstitutional legislation will allow the FBI to continue sifting through the data even when those searches don’t involve a specific criminal investigation. This is an especially grave concern because recent administrations, in both political parties, 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.
“Free Press Action Fund commends Representatives Amash and Lofgren for their leadership in introducing the amendment that would have substituted the USA Rights Act for the bad bill that passed instead. USA Rights would have reined in this sweeping internet-surveillance program and better protected everyone’s Fourth Amendment privacy rights. It's a shame members of Congress didn’t stand up for the rights of their constituents and support this counter-measure instead.”