Senate renews controversial surveillance tool FISA despite concerns over privacy

Washington DC - US lawmakers on Saturday approved the renewal of a powerful electronic surveillance tool widely used by American intelligence agencies abroad, but criticized by civil liberties organizations.

Senate approved the renewal of Section 702 of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) on Saturday.
Senate approved the renewal of Section 702 of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) on Saturday.  © REUTERS

Senators voted 60-34 shortly after midnight to pass the bill, and the White House said President Joe Biden will "swiftly sign the bill into law."

The program enables US intelligence agencies to conduct electronic surveillance without seeking a judicial warrant.

In particular, it allows them to sweep up communications, including phone calls and emails, of non-Americans anywhere outside of US territory.

Trump vows to deport pro-Palestinian protesters: "Throw them out of the country"
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That includes communications from US citizens to foreigners targeted for monitoring.

The law will ensure "that our security professionals can continue... to detect grave national security threats and use that understanding to protect the United States," National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan said in a statement.

The authority under Section 702 of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) has been denounced by privacy and civil liberties advocates.

Donald Trump urged lawmakers to "kill FISA" before vote

Former President Donald Trump claimed, without evidence, that FISA was used to spy on his campaign.
Former President Donald Trump claimed, without evidence, that FISA was used to spy on his campaign.  © REUTERS

It passed the House a week ago, but its renewal was the subject of fierce debate.

Former president Donald Trump, who wants to unseat Biden in the election this fall, got involved in the negotiations by urging lawmakers last week to "Kill FISA."

"It was illegally used against me, and many others. They spied on my campaign!!!" Trump wrote, without proof, on his Truth Social platform earlier this month.

A senior White House official in December urged Congress to renew the program, saying that with the ongoing wars in Gaza and Ukraine, and amid high tensions with China and a persistent threat of cyberattacks, it would be a dangerous time for "unilateral" disarmament.

Cover photo: REUTERS

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