House of Representatives Action
January 11, 2018
On January 11, 2018, the House of Representatives voted on two bills regarding warrantless surveillance programs in the United States. S.139, popularly known as the FISA Amendments Reauthorization Act of 2017 was approved by the House by a vote of 256 – 164. That bill reauthorizes FISA for an additional six years and does not make any substantive changes to the law. Another bill, known as the USA Rights Act, proposed stricter limits and additional protections and was introduced as an amendment that would have replaced the text of S.139. However, this amendment failed by a vote of 183 – 233. LEARN MORE, LEARN MORE
The vote on the two bills taken by the House of Representatives was a double-dose of disappointment. First, the approval of S.139 is an approval and extension of FISA without any substantive changes to the law at all, especially the controversial Section 702. That law was initially designed to collect electronic communications of a foreign target (person) so long as that target was overseas. However, the sweeping up of these electronic communications inadvertently collected the communications of U.S. citizens that were then stored in a database. Even if an American citizen was not targeted for surveillance, the accumulation of their electronic communications was allowed to be retained in this database and made available for search without a warrant by law enforcement and national security agencies. The disappointment of the House vote is that the law was renewed without any changes addressing the concerns of this surveillance program and its effect on American citizens.
What made the day even more frustrating was that the House had an amendment before it that contained proposals to improve Section 702 and other surveillance programs and instead the chamber voted to not approve the amendments. The USA Rights Act offered substantive reforms that would have fixed some of the troubling aspects of Section 702. Specifically, the USA Rights Act would not allow a search into the Section 702 database of American citizens without a warrant. And it would have banned the controversial “about” search clause that allows the government to look at any electronic communication of an American if their name is mentioned in the communication even if the citizen did not send or receive the message. The House of Representatives had a real chance to improve the surveillance program but instead voted down much needed changes and simply rubber stamped the original statute without addressing the known defects. The bill will now be sent to the Senate where it is expected to pass. LEARN MORE, LEARN MORE, LEARN MORE
- American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) – statement on House vote.
- Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) – description of USA Rights Act voted down by the House.
- Brennan Center for Justice – factsheet on government surveillance programs.
This brief was compiled by Rod Maggay. If you have comments or want to add the name of your organization to this brief, please contact firstname.lastname@example.org.