After a contentious debate, the House of Representatives has voted to extend a controversial government surveillance program that powers American spying operations, as it voted down a proposal to include new privacy measures. The debate centers on Section 702 of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, which allows for collection of foreign intelligence data, and that privacy advocates say invasively scoops up Americans communications. The authorization for the program is set to expire later this month, if not reauthorized. Section 702 allows the National Security Agency to continue controversial surveillance activities like PRISM, which the agency uses to scan through data held by American tech companies. Problematic for privacy advocates is a section in the reauthorization bill that would allow for so-called about surveillance. For some time, the National Security Agency intercepted communications that mentioned a surveillance target, even if that information was not sent directly to or from the target. The agency recently stopped, but the bill would give the government the legal leeway to restart its efforts, so long as Congress doesnt explicitly block them soon. The bill was approved by a margin of 256 to 164, and will now move to the Senate. The White House sent mixed signals on its position this week, generating confusion just before the vote. After releasing an official statement supporting the bill, the president sent a tweet Thursday morning questioning whether the Trump campaign was surveilled under the program — an accusation made without evidence. He quickly issued another tweet stepping away from the first. House votes on controversial FISA ACT today. This is the act that may have been used, with the help of the discredited and phony Dossier, to so badly surveil and abuse the Trump Campaign by the previous administration and others? With that being said, I have personally directed the fix to the unmasking process since taking office and todays vote is about foreign surveillance of foreign bad guys on foreign land. We need it! Get smart! Privacy groups and several lawmakers supported an amendment that would have ended about collection and tightened the requirements needed for the government to search collected data for Americans information. The White Houses statement — prior to Trumps tweets — strongly opposed the amendment. The Administration urges the House to reject this amendment and preserve the useful role FISAs Section 702 authority plays in protecting American lives, the White House said. Rep. Ted Lieu (D-CA), who was critical of the bill, said on the floor that there is no asterisk that allows intelligence agencies to avoid complying with the Fourth Amendment. Speaker of the House Paul Ryan (R-WI) argued that the amendment would lead to the country flying blind in its search for terrorism suspects. The amendment was ultimately voted down. Should the bill now pass through the Senate and receive the presidents signature, it will allow the program to continue for another six years — more than the four years proposed by reformers. The final passage would close the door on a debate thats been closely watched as a high-profile fight over surveillance in the post-Snowden world.
The House just passed a bill extending NSA spying powers for six years. The House of Representatives passed legislation Thursday that would extend a controversial government spying power known as "Section 702" for another six years—without new privacy safeguards that had been sought by civil liberties groups. Debate over the legislation now shifts over to the Senate, where it faces a filibuster threat from both Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) and Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) . "If this Section 702 bill comes to the Senate, I will filibuster it," Wyden wrote in a tweet shortly after the House bill passed. Wyden opposes the legislation because he believes that it offers too few protections for Americans' privacy rights. The powers granted by Section 702 are only supposed to be used against foreigners on foreign soil. But an American's communications can get swept up in the NSA's surveillance dragnet if they communicate with people overseas. Privacy advocates have championed an amendment to impose new privacy safeguards on the use of Section 702. But it was voted down by the House on Thursday. The bill that passed the House enjoys support from Republican leaders in the Senate and is likely to get support from most Republican senators. But a few Republicans—including Paul and Sen. Mike Lee (R-Utah)—have expressed skepticism of unfettered NSA surveillance. And Wyden and Paul's filibuster threats mean that it will take 60 votes to pass the legislation. As such, the bill will need support from as many as a dozen Democrats to pass the Senate. When the Senate last renewed Section 702 in 2012, it passed by a 73-23 vote, with 19 Democrats, 3 Republicans, and independent Bernie Sanders voting no. But a lot has changed in the last five years. Barack Obama has been replaced by Donald Trump, potentially making Democrats more wary of handing broad surveillance powers to the executive branch. There isn't much time for the Senate to act. Section 702 expires on January 19, a little more than a week away.