WASHINGTON — On Thursday, the Senate voted to reauthorize sweeping surveillance powers allowing national-security agencies to spy on the communications of millions of people in the United States.
The vote occurred following several efforts to offer amendments to improve privacy safeguards in the bill. The only amendment to succeed, offered by Sens. Patrick Leahy (D–Vermont) and Mike Lee (R–Utah), expands the role of amici curiae to protect against wrongful FISA targeting of religious groups, political organizations and the press.
The reauthorized spying authority, established under the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act and the USA Patriot Act, was set to sunset late last year. It’s been temporarily extended twice, instead of receiving full reauthorization, due to growing bipartisan opposition to the controversial authorities.
Even with the addition of the Leahy–Lee amendment, Free Press Action does not support this legislation in its current form and urges the House to adopt additional privacy safeguards. If the Senate bill passed today also passes the House, it will head to President Donald Trump’s desk.
Free Press Action Government Relations Director Sandra Fulton made the following statement:
“This bill should not be enacted into law without more privacy-strengthening measures. The Senate adoption of the Leahy-Lee amendment is a huge win for civil-liberties champions, but the loss of the warrant protection for browser history due to absences during the vote by supportive senators was a huge disappointment. These protections are particularly critical given the Trump administration’s history of abusing marginalized communities and others the president regards as enemies. But more safeguards are necessary.
“Without more protections that would limit the information spy agencies can collect without a warrant, Congress will be giving the Trump administration the power to snoop on billions of data points for every single person in the United States. Thankfully, many Republicans are joining Democrats to say that the original legislation doesn’t do enough to protect everyone’s privacy rights.
“It should still be unthinkable to extend these spying powers to the same agencies that have so often sidestepped safeguards and ignored Americans’ fundamental privacy rights. The Leahy–Lee amendment is a step in the right direction, but we cannot support any bill that doesn’t go further. The House should do more, starting with protecting web-browsing and search records. At a moment in history when we need Congress to be vigilant, there’s no excuse for failing to protect our rights and privacy.”