House Democrats Endorse Domestic Surveillance Powers For Trump

Washington, DC – In a vote denounced by civil liberties advocates, the US House of Representatives has voted 256 to 164 in favor of re-authorizing Section 702 of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, or FISA – one of the main legal underpinnings of the unaccountable mass surveillance system exposed in 2013 by NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden.

The re-authorization of the expiring portions of FISA, which was approved by over 50 Democrats, would allow Jeff Sessions’ Department of Justice to continue and intensify surveillance of all American citizens. Though FISA is worded so as to imply it only targets non-US citizens, the NSA routinely sweeps up communications of millions of Americans and allows FBI agents to search through the data.

An amendment that would have required FBI agents to obtain a warrant before searching through data the NSA collects on Americans was voted down by a bipartisan coalition, including many Democratic members of the so-called “Resistance” against Trump.

The 702 re-authorization also allows interceptions of domestic communications made using the TOR network or a VPN (Virtual Private Network), as long as they meet vague standards of threats against “national security” or “critical infrastructure.” According to national security researcher Marcy Wheeler, this “domestic spying bill” essentially hands the Trump administration a free pass for conducting politically motivated surveillance behind the guise of criminal investigations.

Importantly, the bill does not permit judicial review on whether the determination that something “affects, involves, or is related to” national security. Meaning Attorney General Jeff Sessions could decide tomorrow that it can collect the Tor traffic of BLM or BDS activists, and no judge can rule that’s an inappropriate use of a foreign intelligence program.” – Marcy Wheeler, The Senate Intelligence Committee 702 Bill Is A Domestic Spying Bill

Among the Democrats voting against the bill was Representative Nancy Pelosi, who also played a key role in killing similar surveillance reform legislation in 2013. Pelosi reportedly refused to provide comment to the press about FISA legislation before her vote today.

California Democratic Representative Adam Schiff, who joined Pelosi in handing Trump expanded surveillance powers, has recently drawn criticism for receiving large donations from weapons manufacturers such as Northrop Grumman and Raytheon.

The re-authorization of FISA’s Section 702, now that it has been passed by the House of Representatives, will be voted on in the Senate, where it is expected to be endorsed by both Republicans and Democrats.

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