Senate Passes Bill Renewing Key FISA Surveillance Power Moments After It Expires

(MENAFN- AzerNews) The Senate voted to reauthorize a powerful surveillance tool theU.S. government describes as critical to combating terrorism, afterdefeating efforts by civil liberties advocates on the left andright to rein it in, Azernews reports.

The vote of 60-34 sends the bill to President Joe Biden, who haschampioned it. The legislation extends Section 702 of the ForeignIntelligence Surveillance Act, or FISA, for two more years.

The final vote came after the Senate defeated six amendmentsfrom progressive and conservative senators who said the spyingpowers are too broad and demanded protections for Americans' civilliberties and privacy. The Biden administration and FISA supportershad warned that even a brief lapse could have a detrimental impacton the intelligence-gathering process.

Senators just missed the midnight deadline to reauthorize theFISA Section 702 statute but voted to reauthorize it minutes later any amendments been adopted, the bill would have been sent backto the House, potentially forcing a lengthy lapse of the law.

“In the nick of time, bipartisanship has prevailed here in theSenate,” Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., said.

“It wasn't easy, people had many different views, but we allknow one thing: letting FISA expire would have been dangerous. It'san important part of our national security to stop acts of terror,drug trafficking, and violent extremism,” Schumer said on theSenate floor.“Thank you to all my Senate colleagues on both sidesof the aisle for their good work in getting this done.”

The House passed a two-year FISA renewal last week afterdefeating, by the slimmest of margins, an amendment to require awarrant to search through the communications of Americans as partof data collected while surveilling foreigners. Senators delayed avote for days by pushing for amendments to make changes to thebill.

The bill's passage came on the heels of a pitched battle betweenthe U.S. intelligence community and an unusual coalition ofprogressive and conservative civil liberties advocates, who arguedthat the powers are too expansive and impinge on the privacy ofAmericans.

“It's important that people understand how sweeping this billis,” said Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Ore., a member of the IntelligenceCommittee and outspoken proponent of privacy protections.“Something was inserted at the last minute, which would basicallycompel somebody like a cable guy to spy for the government. Theywould force the person to do it and there would be no appeal.”

In a rare break with Schumer and Biden, Sen. Patty Murray,D-Wash., the president pro tempore, opposed the bill, saying:“Ihave strong concerns that this expansion of FISA Section 702authorities would allow for increased abuse and misuse of the law -infringing on the rights of Americans here at home.”

Senate Intelligence Committee Chair Mark Warner, D-Va., pushedback on that and other criticisms of a House amendment added to theFISA reauthorization bill, arguing that it“is narrowly focused ona significant intelligence gap,” but some members like Wyden worryit could be abused.

“Contrary to what some have been saying, it expressly excludescoffee shops, bars, restaurants, residences, hotels, libraries,recreational facilities and a whole litany of similarestablishments,” Warner said on the Senate floor Wednesday.“Italso absolutely would not, as some critics have maintained, allowthe U.S. government to compel, for example, a janitor working in anoffice building in Northern Virginia to spy for the intelligencecommunity.”

Warner said that allowing FISA to expire would have put the S“uncharted territory” as companies who work with the governmentto provide intelligence might have stopped doing so without areauthorization.

Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, said that“60% of the president'sdaily brief is composed of 702-derived materials, so this isabsolutely critical.”



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