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House Votes to Renew Mass Surveillance Law FISA

Privacy experts are up in arms after the House of Representatives voted to renew a controversial surveillance law which could expand the government’s powers to snoop on Americans.

Section 702 of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act was reauthorized by 256-164, the first time lawmakers have done so since Edward Snowden’s revelations blew the lid on mass snooping by the NSA five years ago.

The legislation is supposed to govern US intelligence agencies’ ability to gather data on foreign terror and other suspects by allowing them to lift it at entry points into the country.

However, as revealed by Snowden, the government circumvents constitutional protections from warrantless surveillance by allowing the NSA to conduct so-called “backdoor searches.”

The Electronic Frontier Foundation explained these as follows:

“The NSA uses Section 702 to target non-US persons not living in the United States, collecting emails both ‘to’ and ‘from’ an individual. Predictably, those emails include messages sent by US persons. The government stores those messages in several databases that — because of a loophole — can then be searched and read by government agents who do not first obtain a warrant, even when those communications are written by Americans.”

The reauthorized legislation will require a warrant, but only in the narrowest of circumstances.

“The bill’s narrow warrant requirement runs the Fourth Amendment through a fun-house mirror, flipping its intentions and providing protections only after a search has been made,” the EFF argued.

The new version of Section 702 voted for in the House yesterday would also allow a restart of controversial “about” data collection, which was ended last year after criticism from the FISA court.

This allows the NSA to tap the internet for communications data which is merely “about” a suspect — that person doesn’t even need to feature as sender or receiver of these messages.

Proposed amendments in the form of a USA Rights Act — which would have closed the backdoor search loophole, ended “about” searches for good and reauthorized Section 702 for only four years — have been voted down 183-233, with 55 Democrats voting against.

The FISA Amendments Reauthorization Act of 2017, to give it its full title, will now pass to the Senate, where Republican senator Rand Paul has threatened to filibuster in an attempt to stop it. The Kentucky lawmaker has a history of standing up against mass surveillance.

The FISA vote was briefly cast into doubt this week after President Trump tweeted that he opposed the legislation, as he claimed it had been used by the FBI to spy on his campaign.

After a call with House speaker Paul Ryan he hastily reversed his view, claiming support.

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