U.S. House approves contentious surveillance bill

    The US House passed a bill reauthorising the surveillance program under Section 702 of FISA by a 273-147 vote, to be reviewed by the Senate. Facing bipartisan privacy concerns, this renewal extends the program, which expires on April 19th, for two years after much debate and previous blocks by Republican MPs.

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    The US House of Representatives, currently under control of the Republican Party, voted on Friday to reauthorise a controversial surveillance programme. This is a significant step towards maintaining a crucial element of the United States’ foreign intelligence gathering operations.

    The House passed a bill reauthorising Section 702 of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) by a vote of 273 to 147. The FISA bill now progresses to the Senate, where it’s anticipated to receive bipartisan approval. Congressional action is necessary to prevent the program’s expiry on April 19th.

    Approval arrived after the bill’s duration was reduced to two years, down from the previously proposed five years, in response to demands from some Republican MPs.

    FISA has faced criticism from both Republican and Democrat lawmakers, who argue it breaches the constitutional right to privacy for US citizens. The bill was blocked on three separate occasions in the past five months by Republican MPs rebelling against their party line.

    The White House, intelligence chiefs, and senior figures on the House Intelligence Committee issued warnings about the potentially disastrous consequences of not reauthorising the program, which was established following the 9/11 attacks.

    Passing laws is mostly about finding compromises

    The reauthorisation was hindered earlier this week when Republican MPs refused to back the bill presented by House Speaker Mike Johnson, as it didn’t incorporate the changes they desired.

    “Without this program, we’ll be flying blind as of April 19th,” remarked Representative Mike Turner, the Republican chair of the House Intelligence Committee, to reporters on Wednesday.

    While the right to privacy is enshrined in the US Constitution, data on foreign nationals collected through the program frequently includes communications with US citizens. This data can be accessed and examined by domestic law enforcement agencies, such as the FBI, without a warrant.

    This has caused concern amongst both hardline Republicans and left-wing Democrats. Recent disclosures that the FBI utilised this power to seek information on Black Lives Matter protestors, donors to congressional campaigns, and US legislators have further eroded trust in the program’s integrity.

    A central point of contention has been an amendment that would necessitate domestic law enforcement agencies to obtain warrants before searching the database. Officials within the executive branch argue that such an alteration would hinder the program’s effectiveness for agencies like the FBI.


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