GOP-run House passes renewal of spying program
Patrick Semansky/AP

On Thursday, the U.S. House of Representatives passed a bill reauthorizing Section 702 of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) for six years. The program that allows the U.S. government to spy on “persons reasonably believed to be located outside the United States” was exposed by Edward Snowden to have authorized the bulk collection of emails and other electronic communications by Americans. Voting “yes” to approve the spying bill were 191 Republicans and 65 Democrats.

Before the reauthorization, progressives and libertarian-leaning Republicans failed to pass a sweeping reform known as the USA Rights Act. The act addresses the “backdoor search loophole” which allows the FBI to obtain electronic communications gathered by the NSA without a warrant, whether or not the requested documents include the communications of Americans.  Furthermore, it would have created a new, independent agency to oversee its enforcement. The amendment was sponsored by Rep. Zoe Lofgren (D-Calif.) and Ted Poe (R-Tex.). It failed 183-233.

President Trump, as is his way, came out against it before he was for it. Thursday morning, he tweeted, “[t]his is the act that may have been used, with the help of the discredited and phony Dossier, to so badly surveil and abuse the Trump Campaign by the previous administration and others.”

Shortly after receiving a call from Speaker of the House Paul Ryan, the President clumsily walked back his suspicion of the program saying “today’s vote is about foreign surveillance of foreign bad guys on foreign land. We need it! Get smart!” The Daily Beast sarcastically noted that President Trump may have had a hard time grasping the difference between “foreign” and “domestic” surveillance.

Some on the left were quick to call out the Democrats who facilitated the renewal of the program without significant reform. The Intercept’s Glenn Greenwald wrote, “[i]f ‘resistance’ means anything, at a minimum it should entail a refusal to trust a dangerous authoritarian to wield vast power with little checks or oversight.”

The ACLU characterized House leadership as having “caved to irresponsible fearmongering from the intelligence agencies,” calling out House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wisc.) and Democratic Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) for acting “in direct opposition to the interests of their constituents to be free from warrantless government spying.” The ACLU tweeted “[m]any representatives who have expressed a concern about this administration’s abuses still voted for this bill. Today, their concern rings more hollow.”

The Electronic Frontier Foundation, a non-profit dedicated to “defending digital privacy, free speech, and innovation,” called the House’s reauthorization “deeply disappointing,” adding, “[b]ecause of these votes, the surveillance will continue to operate in a dark corner, routinely violating the Fourth Amendment and other core constitutional protections.”

The Senate is expected to vote on the reauthorization by January 19.


Patrick J. Foote
Patrick J. Foote

Patrick Foote writes occasionally for People's World. At the University of Central Florida, he worked with the Student Labor Action Project organizing around the intersection of student and worker issues. He would go on to work in the labor movement in such organizations as Central Florida Jobs with Justice, AFSCME Council 79, and OUR Walmart.