House approves 5 year FISA Amendments Act reauthorization


The House approved Sept. 12 on a mixed-party vote a five year reauthorization of the FISA Amendments Act (H.R. 5949), sending renewal of the electronic surveillance bill to the Senate where it will likely face heated opposition from Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.), who placed a hold in June on similar legislation in the Senate.

The House approved the reauthorization 301-118, with 74 Democrats joining 227 Republicans to vote in favor. Seven Republicans joined 111 Democrats in voting against it.

In debate leading up to the vote, Rep. Zoe Lofgren (D-Calif.) urged opposition, stating that language in the bill proscribing the reverse-targeting of U.S. citizens doesn't compensate for the potential violation of Fourth Amendment requirements for a warrant when the communications of an American citizen come under surveillance.

The FISA Amendments Act permits the intelligence community to intercept the communications of individuals without a warrant, provided the interceptions are targeted at suspected foreign state or terrorist agents located outside the United States. Opposition stems in large measure from the extent to which intelligence agencies sweep up U.S. citizen communications in the process of targeting foreign individuals.

The reauthorization act directs the intelligence community to take steps to minimize the scope of interceptions, and prohibits reverse targeting--i.e., using the act to intercept the communications of a foreigner located abroad in order to actually read the communications of someone located in the United States.

But, the reauthorization act "does not make clear that the government must obtain a warrant prior to searching for information acquired incidentally on a U.S. person in a large pool of data that the government has already lawfully obtained," Lofgren said.

Rep. Dan Lungren (R-Calif.) argued for the bill, stating that it increases protection of citizen communications since it introduces a requirement that the FISA court sign an order should the intelligence community wish to conduct surveillance on U.S. persons (citizens and permanent residents) located abroad. "Even if they're overseas, we now require that. It was not required by statute before that," Lungren said.

Rep. Mike Rogers (R-Mich.), chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, argued that "in the odd case where an American is intercepted, there are very strict procedures on how to destroy that information and correct that problem, and it has not happened, hardly frequently at all."

But Wyden, in his opposition earlier this year in the Senate, has drawn attention to the fact that the intelligence community itself says (.pdf) it does not know the number of people located in the United States whose communications may have been intercepted and reviewed under authority of the act.

In an emailed statement, Wyden said he "would be supportive of a shorter extension that gave Congress more time to address these concerns," but that the House-approved bill "will not help Congress or the public get more information about this law's impact on Americans' privacy, and it won't close the 'back-door searches' loophole that exists in the law."

For more:
- go to the THOMAS page for the FISA Amendments Act Reauthorization Act of 2012

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