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House Renews Surveillance Law, Rejects Proposed Privacy Limits

The House of Representatives voted 256 to 164 in favor of maintaining the legality of the NSA's warrantless surveillance program.

The debate over government surveillance catalyzed by Edward Snowden in 2013 came to a close today after the House of Representatives voted 256 to 164 to extend the NSA’s warrantless surveillance program. In the previous vote, a bipartisan effort to add significant privacy limits to the National Security Agency’s surveillance program ended with a crushing 233 to 183 vote not in favor. 

The vote addressed Section 702 of the FISA Amendments Act, a law that permits the U.S. government to collect personal user information from large American firms like Google and AT&T, even if it involves American citizens. The law, set to expire soon, will now be revised with minimal changes. Lawmakers expect that the revision will pass like a small kidney stone through a Senate that is less concerned with limits on spying than it has been in the past. 

The vote comes as a victory for President Trump, Speaker Paul Ryan and the intelligence community as a whole. However, Trump’s early Thursday morning tweet seemed to encourage lawmakers to impose limits on the law.

The tweet appeared during an early morning segment on Fox News concerning the FISA vote, in which an analyst appealed to the President directly. The cause-and-effect relationship between Trump’s tweet and the Fox analyst’s direct appeal should be cause for concern. Trump should not make whimsical policy announcements based on what he learns from early-morning television. The President quickly reversed his opinion by midmorning.

Trump’s two tweets highlight the big problem of the NSA’s program: that it’s meant for foreign surveillance but can still collect information on American citizens. Any interaction between Trump’s campaign and actors within Russia would fall under these provisions, hence his initial trepidation. Trump’s first tweet criticized the program for its possible involvement in uncovering the now infamous dossier that supposedly details his ties with Russia, an invasion of privacy in his eye. His second tweet, in support of the program, defends its ability to monitor “foreign bad guys on foreign land.” Trump’s initial condemnation and subsequent approval of the NSA measure shows a fickle commitment to policy that suggests insufficient knowledge of the issue.

[via The New York Times]

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