House votes to extend questionable NSA surveillance program for six more years

Sergio Conner
January 13, 2018

The House voted Thursday to renew a controversial surveillance program that targets foreign terrorists but also sweeps up emails, texts and other electronic communication from an unknown number of Americans.

The U.S. House on Thursday passed legislation reauthorizing a surveillance act after President Donald Trump first criticized the bill, and then backed it.

The White House has issued statements this week and asked lawmakers to reauthorise it, even urging members late Wednesday night to reject a proposed amendment to the measure that would weaken the bill and likely kill its chances of passage in the Senate.

But two hours before that, he sent out a tweet suggesting that the program was used to collect information that might have been used to "badly surveil and abuse" his campaign.

"This vote is about foreign surveillance of foreign bad guys on foreign land", Trump said in a morning tweet. "We need it! Get smart!" he wrote.

Trump, though, has focused intently on the dossier in recent days, especially after a transcript was released of the congressional interview with the co-founder of the firm behind the document.

Although controversial, officials from Democratic and Republican administrations have argued the eavesdropping tool is vital to counterterrorism and counterespionage efforts and has saved lives - an argument echoed by Trump's own White House. Justin Amash, R-Mich., and Zoe Lofgren, D-Calif., that would have required federal agents to get warrants before searching through Americans' data. It's at this initial stage - where leads are sifted and prioritized - when foreign intelligence can be queried to help connect dots and spot possible national security threats, he said.

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The legislation, which passed 256-164 and split party lines, is the culmination of a years-long debate in Congress on the proper scope of United States intelligence collection - one fueled by the 2013 disclosures of classified surveillance secrets by former NSA contractor Edward Snowden.

As part of the negotiations with conservatives, Republican leaders allowed one amendment with the changes the bill's opponents wanted to get a vote - with the assumption it would fail but would at least give these members the chance to say they got something.

"It's well-known that he has concerns about the domestic FISA law", the speaker said. The statute entitles intelligence agencies to collect the communications of foreigners overseas without a warrant, even when the individual in question was communicating with an American citizen. By contrast, a White House statement supported the legislation.

"I can tell you, I've been on the intelligence committee for 17 years, the government has never said, never once said it needed 702 for typical crimes", Wyden said.

"No president should have this power", she said. He spoke on the Senate floor for 10 hours and 30 minutes in 2015 over the National Security Agency surveillance programs authorized under the Patriot Act and he filibustered for almost 13 hours in 2013 to draw attention to the USA drone program.

More Democrats in the House crossed over to pass the bill than Republicans who crossed over to oppose it, 65/45.

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