Thursday, 18 January, 2018

Trump tweet throws today's House surveillance votes into chaos

White House press secretary Sarah Sanders insisted Thursday that...									Posted Jan. 11 2018 3:28 PM					Updated Jan. 11 2018 7:58 PM White House press secretary Sarah Sanders insisted Thursday that... Posted Jan. 11 2018 3:28 PM Updated Jan. 11 2018 7:58 PM
Lillian Steele | 12 January, 2018, 03:26

In a Thursday morning tweet, President Trump called into question his own administration's position on the reauthorization of a program that allows the government to conduct foreign surveillance on USA soil.

Section 702 of FISA empowers the National Security Agency under a special court order to collect and analyze emails and other digital communications of foreigners living overseas, but the agency also ends up collecting data on an unknown number of USA persons, which it can later search without a warrant.

Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.), a member of the Senate Intelligence Committee, said the existing versions of the House and Senate bills "allow for substantial warrantless backdoor searches of communications of law abiding Americans" under Section 702 of FISA. Privacy advocates and lawmakers from both parties have argued for years that government agencies should have to get warrants if they want to look at Americans' communications in the database.

President Trump offered a series of confusing tweets about the bill Thursday morning, prompting Democrats to ask for a delay in the House vote.

"The House voted today to give President Trump and his administration more spying powers", Neema Singh Guliani, policy counsel with the American Civil Liberties Union, said in a statement.

President Donald Trump threw a scheduled congressional vote on a surveillance bill into chaos Thursday morning when he unexpectedly tweeted criticism of it, apparently in response to a Fox News segment. Trump later sent another tweet telling lawmakers to "get smart" and vote for the FISA bill.

Following the vote, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell made a motion to concur in the House amendment to the bill, and filed cloture on that motion. While the government agency cannot use the law to target the communications of any American, or any person located inside the US, without constitutional protection, it has conceded that Americans living overseas could be swept up by "incidental collection".

Press secretary Sarah Sanders told reporters there was no contradiction in Trump's tweets on the surveillance program and that he was voicing broader concerns about FISA. There had been some attempts to get some warrant demands in the bill, but as surveillance expert Marcy Wheeler has noted, the law was worded so that it applies only if you're a suspect of a crime. "It leaves the door wide open to abusive surveillance practices that allow the government to search the intimate emails, text messages, and other sensitive data of Americans without a warrant of any kind".

That law, Section 702 of the FISA Amendments Act, was passed in 2008. And in Trump's world, things like this are pretty simple: If FISA warrants were used in a way that he perceives as being against him, they are bad.

The bill pushed by GOP leaders and the intelligence community would allow the government to re-start so-called "abouts" collection, where agencies can track communications that mention the target but aren't to or from him. For example, it could be used to find evidence that an American citizen isn't paying his or her taxes or has committed a minor drug offense, according to the ACLU and other civil liberties groups. "What Section 702 was designed and meant to do was to knock down those walls", Pompeo said at an event hosted by the Foundation for Defense of Democracies. Paul said he could only support it if it includes his amendment.

But top Democrats on the House and Senate intelligence committees had already seized on the president's first tweet, excoriating it as "irresponsible" and "untrue". We feel like we have a great opportunity ... to pass this amendment on the House floor to make a difference for the American people - to stand up for the Constitution.

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