Senate Approves Extended Surveillance Powers For Trump

Washington, DC – On January 18, 2018, the US Senate voted to reauthorize Section 702 of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, or FISA – the legal underpinning for global mass surveillance carried out by the National Security Agency (NSA). The Senate passed the bill last Thursday after the US House of Representatives approved the same legislation a week earlier on January 11. President Trump signed the bill into law on Friday, January 19. The bill would extend unaccountable surveillance authorities for another seven years, at which point FISA will again be up for congressional reauthorization.

The re-authorization of Section 702 signals the end of any legal debate over the invasive and widely controversial NSA surveillance programs exposed by whistleblower Edward Snowden in 2013. The legislative endorsement of NSA mass surveillance received enthusiastic support from both sides of the aisle, including many Democratic members of Congress who publicly present themselves as members of #TheResistance.

Democratic House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (left) raises her fist at the Pride #ResistMarch in Los Angeles last summer. This month, Pelosi voted to re-authorize warrantless surveillance powers for the Trump administration. Photo via The Intercept

After he signed the bill into law, President Trump promptly tweeted a false statement regarding the bill. He claimed that the bill he signed into law was “NOT the same FISA law” that he had accused the Obama administration of using to spy on his campaign.

What the president apparently failed to comprehend is that the ‘702 Bill’ merely re-authorized Section 702 of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA), which is in fact “the same FISA law.”

Dragnet surveillance by the NSA under FISA is supposed to only target non-Americans; however, communications by Americans are routinely swept up. Furthermore, the FBI is often provided direct access to NSA intercepts of American’s data. While President Trump and his supporters in Congress have made a variety of claims about former President Obama using the NSA to target Trump, national security expert Marcy Wheeler warns that the abuse of FISA authority by the Trump administration to target political dissidents inside the USA is an inevitable certainty.

In 2014 FISC [the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court] created an exception to the rule that NSA must detask from a facility as soon as they learn that Americans are also using that facility. That exception applies to Tor and …VPN servers — basically the kinds of privacy tools that criminals, spies, journalists, and dissidents might use to hide their online activities. NSA has to sort through what they collect on the back end, but along the way, they get to decide to keep any entirely domestic traffic they find has significant foreign intelligence purpose or is evidence of a crime, among other reasons. The bill even codifies 8 enumerated crimes under which they can keep such data. Some of those crimes — child porn and murder — make sense, but others — like transnational crime (including local drug dealers selling imported drugs) and CFAA (with its well-known propensity for abuse) pose more potential for abuse.

But it’s the unreviewable authority for Jeff Sessions bit that is the real problem.

We know, for example, that painting Black Lives Matter as a national security threat is key to the Trump-Sessions effort to criminalize race. We also know that Trump has accused his opponents of treason, all for making critical comments about Trump.” – Marcy Wheeler, EmptyWheel.net

Since 2007, the NSA has been under a court order to preserve the contents of communications it intercepted between 2001 and 2007 under programs ordered by then-President George W. Bush. Last Thursday, the same day congress voted to re-authorize FISA, government lawyers told the court that they had in fact deleted the evidence of potentially illegal surveillance, and that all backups had been wiped.

(Title picture: Getty Images)


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