On Wednesday the House Rules Committee decided to postpone a rushed vote on extending the controversial section 702 of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act.
Civil liberties advocates won a battle on Wednesday after the House Rules Committee announced they would postpone a vote to reauthorize section 702 of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA). Activists feared the worst after Politico published a report on Tuesday claiming that a small group of “surveillance hawks” in the House of Representatives would attempt to force a bill that would extend NSA surveillance by approving section 702. Congress members have been attempting to wedge the controversial FISA vote within a “must-pass” end of the year spending bill. Despite such efforts, the House Rules Committee abandoned the rushed vote plan.
According the Electronic Frontier Foundation, Section 702 of FISA “allows the NSA to collect emails, browser history and chat logs of Americans. Section 702 also allows other agencies, like the FBI, to search through that data without a warrant. Those searches are called ‘backdoor searches.’”
The Trump administration has been supportive of the extension of section 702 of FISA, which is scheduled to end on December 31st. The Anti Media previously reported that Attorney General Jeff Sessions was also fighting to save FISA. On September 7, Sessions and Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats sent a letter to the leaders of the House of Representatives and the Senate urging them to permanently reauthorize the controversial Section 702 of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act.
The EFF says the bill the surveillance hawks want to force through fails to secure the privacy of Americans. “If this bill passes, we will miss the opportunity to prevent the FBI from searching through NSA databases for American communications without a warrant,” the EFF writes. “Worse, nothing will be done to rein in the massive, unconstitutional surveillance of the NSA on Americans or innocent technology users worldwide.”
Supporters of section 702 and FISA want a vote on an extension without any debate on the possibility of weakening or limiting the secret program. They face opposition from civil liberties advocates who want to vote on whether to end, amend, or extend the program. “There isn’t any chance that a long-term FISA reauthorization has the support of the overall conference,” Rep. Mark Meadows, the chairman of the House Freedom Caucus, told the Washington Post on Wednesday.
Although the Rules Committee has presently abandoned the vote, that does not mean the fight against mass surveillance is over. Devin Nunes, Chairman of the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence and author of the bill (H.R. 4478), still has time to introduce the bill for a House vote. There is also the possibility that another bill could be introduced with provisions to approve section 702.
The attempt at reauthorization was also opposed by a small group of Senators, including Rand Paul, Mike Lee, Patrick Leahy, Steve Daines, and Ron Wyden. The senators gathered at a press conference with activists from the American Civil Liberties Union and FreedomWorks to voice their opposition to quietly renewing Section 702.
“I will actively oppose and filibuster any long term extension of warrantless searches of American citizens,” Paul tweeted on Wednesday.
The FBI and NSA claim they need section 702 in order to prevent another 9/11 like attack. However, in 2013 whistleblower Edward Snowden revealed that Section 702 also authorizes two Internet surveillance programs known as PRISM and Upstream. PRISM gathers messaging data sent via Google, Facebook, Microsoft, Apple, and other tech companies, while Upstream taps into the so-called backbone of the Internet to gather data on targets.
While Congress debates several bills regarding the future of Section 702, the Trump administration continues to support the dangerous, unconstitutional measure. Instead of any meaningful reform, the Senate version of the bill to “reform” Section 702 asks the FBI to submit a request to the the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court if they end up in possession of an Americans data. This is the very definition of the wolf guarding the hen house because the FISA court is notoriously secretive with little oversight. Critics say a lack of transparency has allowed various federal agencies to run mass surveillance programs with no accountability.
The courts were originally created under the the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act of 1978 (FISA) in response to reports produced by the 1975 Church Committee. The Senate panel was tasked with investigating the foreign and domestic surveillance operations by the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), National Security Agency (NSA) and Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) during the 1970s.
The Church Committee also released detailed reports on the governments Counter Intelligence Programs (COINTELPRO) that were used against activists and influential voices of opposition during the 1950s and ’60s.
Americans who care about privacy must stand against this obvious violation of liberty and privacy.