I have previously reported on the Senate’s passage of legislation that reauthorized a section of the controversial FISA law. Section 702 of the FISA Amendments Act provides the director of national intelligence and attorney general with the authority to surveil anyone outside of the country. However, this version appears to go further, as US citizens can get caught up as well.
This new bill includes some new provisions: authorities can now access communications that simply mention an overseas target, even if they are not the recipient of said message. The ACLU tweeted that the bill Trump signed “allows the government to violate Americans’ rights and makes the law worse in several ways.” Its renewal - especially with its new teeth - deals a major blow to privacy activists, who saw the sunset of NSA authority as a strategic opportunity for Congress to rein in NSA surveillance and restrict how the government can use the information it collects.
No sense crying, as the genie is now out of the bottle. As a result, the NSA is emboldened and reinvigorated, as it hasn’t been since the early years of the Obama presidency. What is remarkable and bears further scrutiny, is the extent of liberal lawmakers' support for it, in conjunction with their usually liberal acolytes in the media who exhorted passage.
The mostly liberal media has been surprisingly quiet on the brewing controversy leading up to the vote, often seemingly echoing the establishment line touted by conservative think tanks. And how crazy and downright bewildering is it to see that progressive media paragon, CNN, screams, “ [The] Senate must pass FISA Section 702 to protect Americans.” It sounds very similar to the conservative think tank, the Heritage Foundation, which wrote: “Renewal of FISA’s Section 702: Why America Needs the Provision.”
That a bevy of Senate Democrats and a handful of Democrats in the House voted with Republicans on Tuesday to shut down any further debate on a bill that strengthens the government’s spying powers, is alarming enough. To have the mainstream media acting as cheerleaders on such an important privacy issue leads one to wonder if there is more to the story.
The answer may lie in the fact that a majority of Americans are myopic when it comes to privacy versus national security. Members of Congress facing election challenges in the November mid-terms can read poll results reflecting the public’s mood which has come full circle since the heady days of Edward Snowden’s revelations. Back in 2013, no-one could conceive of a scenario in which the NSA would not only retain its snooping powers but expand upon them.
This is especially upsetting given that the post-Snowden privacy movement secured its largest victory in 2015 - a scant three years ago when Congress voted to end and replace one of the programs that Mr Snowden exposed. Under that program, the NSA had been secretly collecting logs of Americans’ domestic phone calls in bulk. But lawmakers who hoped to add significant privacy constraints to the warrantless surveillance program, as well, not only fell short on Thursday, they were thoroughly routed.
There was hope in some quarters that President Trump, whose campaign is under investigation largely because of claimed surveillance abuses, might be sympathetic to anti-702 sentiment and veto the bill. He has, however, become a typical politician who reads the tea leaves as well as the polls. So this last-gasp possibility was foreclosed upon. It does not bode well for privacy rights in the future, for when in doubt, the mantra of national security will be trotted out, and will eclipse privacy every time in this security environment.