The U.S. Senate today passed a bill that will renew the National Security Agency’s warrantless internet surveillance program for six years with no substantive changes. It’s bad news, say privacy and security advocates, but not a surprise.
The re-up gives NSA powers that were first granted in response to the September 11 terrorist attacks. Opponents argued that FISA section 702, as the section of law is known, allows the NSA and other agencies to spy on Americans in a way that violates principles protected by the U.S. Constitution.
The House passed the legislation last week without much fuss.
President Donald Trump is expected to sign the bill before end of day Friday, but he has recently published confused/confusing tweets that indicate he might change his mind, too, because he’s just kind of nuts.
Thursday’s 65-34 passage in the Senate was largely a foregone conclusion, after senators earlier this week cleared a 60-vote procedural hurdle, which split party lines and came within one vote of failing.
Passage of the legislation marked a disappointing end to a years-long effort by a coalition of liberal Democrats and libertarian-leaning Republicans to redefine the scope of U.S. intelligence collection following the 2013 disclosures of classified surveillance secrets by former NSA contractor Edward Snowden.
The bill reauthorizes what is known as Section 702 of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, which gathers information from foreigners overseas but incidentally collects an unknown amount of communications belonging to Americans.
Under Section 702, the NSA is empowered to eavesdrop on vast amounts of digital communications via American companies like Facebook, Verizon, and Alphabet Inc’s Google.
But the program also incidentally scoops up Americans’ communications, including when they communicate with a foreign target living overseas. Intelligence analysts can then search those messages without a warrant.
FILE PHOTO: A shot from REUTERS of a large NSA monitoring base.