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Senate passes reauthorization of FISA : NPR


Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., reviews his notes during a meeting with Ukrainian Prime Minister Denys Shmyhal as Congress prepares to advance an emergency foreign aid package for Israel, Ukraine and Taiwan, at the Capitol in Washington, Thursday, April 1. 18, 2024.

J. Scott Applewhite/AP


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J. Scott Applewhite/AP


Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., reviews his notes during a meeting with Ukrainian Prime Minister Denys Shmyhal as Congress prepares to advance an emergency foreign aid package for Israel, Ukraine and Taiwan, at the Capitol in Washington, Thursday, April 1. 18, 2024.

J. Scott Applewhite/AP

WASHINGTON — After midnight, the Senate voted early Saturday to reauthorize a key U.S. surveillance law after divisions over whether the FBI should be blocked from using the program to search for data on the Americans almost forced the expiration of the law.

The legislation approved by a 60-34 vote with bipartisan support would extend the program known as Section 702 of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act for two years. It now goes to President Joe Biden’s desk to become law. White House national security adviser Jake Sullivan said Biden “will quickly sign the bill.”

“Shortly in time, we are reauthorizing FISA just before it expires at midnight,” Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer said as voting on final passage began 15 minutes before the deadline. “All day we persisted and we persisted in trying to achieve a breakthrough and in the end we succeeded.”

U.S. officials have said the surveillance tool, first authorized in 2008 and renewed several times since, is crucial to disrupting terrorist attacks, cyber intrusions and foreign espionage and has also produced intelligence that the United States has relied on for specific operations, such as the 2022 assassination of al-Qaeda leader Ayman al-Zawahri.

“If you miss a key piece of intelligence, you risk missing an event overseas or putting troops at risk,” said Sen. Marco Rubio, the top Republican on the Senate Intelligence Committee. “You might miss a plot to harm the country here, domestically or elsewhere. So in this particular case, there are real implications.”

The proposal would renew the program, which allows the U.S. government to collect the communications of non-Americans outside the country without a warrant to gather foreign intelligence. The reauthorization faced a long and bumpy road to final passage Friday, after months of clashes between privacy advocates and national security hawks that pushed consideration of the legislation to the brink of exhalation.

Although the spy program was technically set to expire at midnight, the Biden administration had said it expected its intelligence-gathering authority to remain operational for at least another year, thanks to an advisory issued earlier this month by the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court, which receives surveillance information. applications.

Still, officials said the court’s approval should not replace congressional authorization, especially since communications companies could stop cooperating with the government if the program were to expire.

Before the law expired, U.S. officials were already scrambling after two major U.S. communications providers said they would stop complying with orders through the surveillance program, according to a person familiar with the matter, who spoke spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss the matter. private negotiations.

Attorney General Merrick Garland praised the reauthorization and reiterated how “indispensable” the tool is to the Justice Department.

“This reauthorization of Section 702 gives the United States the authority to continue to collect foreign intelligence on non-U.S. persons located outside the United States, while codifying important reforms that the Department of Justice has adopted to ensuring the protection of Americans’ privacy and civil liberties,” Garland said in a statement Saturday.

But despite urgings from the Biden administration and classified briefings to senators this week on the crucial role they say the spy program plays in protecting national security, a group of progressive and conservative lawmakers who are pushing for further changes refused to accept the version of the bill. the House sent it last week.

Lawmakers had demanded that Majority Leader Chuck Schumer allow a vote on amendments to the legislation that would seek to close what they see as civil liberties gaps in the bill. Ultimately, Schumer was able to reach a deal that would allow critics to receive votes on their amendments in exchange for speeding up the adoption process.

The six amendments ultimately failed to garner the support needed to be included in the final passage.

One of the main changes proposed by critics was to restrict the FBI’s access to information about Americans through the program. Although the surveillance tool only targets non-Americans in other countries, it also collects Americans’ communications when they are in contact with the targeted foreigners. Sen. Dick Durbin, the second-ranking Democrat in the House, had championed a proposal that would require U.S. officials to obtain a warrant before accessing U.S. communications.

“If the government wants to spy on my private communications or the private communications of any American, it should be required to obtain the approval of a judge, just as our Founding Fathers intended when they wrote the Constitution,” Durbin said.

Over the past year, U.S. officials have revealed a series of abuses and errors by FBI analysts in improperly querying the intelligence repository for information on Americans or others in the United States, including a member of Congress and participants in the 2020 racial justice protests and Congress. January 6, 2021, riot at the US Capitol.

But members of the House and Senate intelligence committees, as well as the Justice Department, warned that requiring a warrant would seriously hamper officials’ ability to respond quickly to imminent threats to national security.

“I think this is a risk we cannot afford to take given the wide range of challenges our country faces around the world,” Democratic Sen. Mark Warner, chairman of the Senate committee, said Friday intelligence.

News Source : www.npr.org
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