House passes FISA bill amid Trump tweet confusion

Cheryl Sanders
January 13, 2018

Photo President Trump posted his tweet shortly after a Fox News legal analyst appealed directly to him during a Thursday morning segment about the upcoming House vote. 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.

Trump seemed to stray from official administration orthodoxy on three prominent issues of the day: the legislative fate of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program, the reauthorization of the controversial Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) and the viability of funding a nationwide infrastructure overhaul through public-private partnerships.

After the excesses of the Watergate era, during which the Nixon administration used the Federal Bureau of Investigation and the CIA unlawfully to spy without warrants on the president's real and imagined domestic political opponents, Congress passed the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act.

"This vote is about foreign surveillance of foreign bad guys on foreign land", Trump said in a tweet yesterday. But less than two hours later, the president appeared to reverse himself, telling lawmakers to "Get smart!"

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.

Trump's original tweet enraged Democrats who have been working with moderate Republicans to reauthorize the legislation.

While Trump's displeasure stemmed from his understanding that FISA was used in the creation of Christopher Steele's famed Trump dossier, the act is more generally used to pursue foreign terrorists. 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.

Hidden beneath the controversy stirred up last week by the publication of a book called "Fire and Fury", a highly critical insider's view of the Trump White House that the president has not only denounced on national television but also tried to prevent from being published and distributed, are the efforts of the Trump administration and congressional leadership to bypass the Fourth Amendment to the Constitution.

Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders faced a lot of questions today over President Donald Trump's tweeting and his shifting opinions about the the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA).

Congress reauthorized a controversial law that allows presidents to spy on American citizens. It was created to place the government's targeted surveillance of any "U.S. person" suspected of involvement with worldwide terror organizations under Congressional and judicial oversight.

Under the new bill, FISA Section 702 will now allow the NSA to collect electronic communications of U.S. citizens if they mention certain terms, and not necessarily if they communicate with non-US citizens via email or an online chat.

Trump's administration has pushed for the FISA programme to be reauthorised, with FBI Director Christopher Wray calling it a valuable tool to fight terrorism.

The House turned down an amendment that would have required warrants in most cases before Americans' emails and other messages that are collected in the mass surveillance could be searched for and read. Ever since, in order for the DOJ to obtain a FISA warrant, it has to submit a request to a FISC judge.

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