The right to privacy is a major concern to Americans, and making sure Big Brother isn’t intruding on their lives without their knowledge is a high priority. Government officials abusing the power of their surveillance abilities used to be considered just a conspiracy theory, but with the 2016 FISA fiasco, it was made as clear as a freshly washed window. Lawmakers have been all over the board, from those who demand it is necessary to keep their snooping powers for the good of America, to those who warn of the dangers of such capabilities. But, in a rare bipartisan decision, the House voted on March 11 in favor of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) by 278-136 – with some changes.
Attorney General William Barr approved of the bill, saying:
“I have reviewed the House FISA bill and support its passage. The bill contains an array of new requirements and compliance provisions that will protect against abuse and misuse in the future while ensuring that this critical tool is available when appropriate to protect the safety of the American people.”
The updated bill ends the NSA’s authority to collect detailed records on an ongoing basis and limits how long the government can retain specific records. It also requires notice to be given to those targeted in national security investigations where their information can be used in legal proceedings and gives those people the right to challenge the legality of the actions. The bill requires officers that oversee the FISA applications will have to certify that the DOJ has been notified and it also increases penalties if information is misrepresented.
Not everyone is satisfied with the passage though. Republicans called for a FISA reform after the 17 “significant errors or omissions” were found by the Justice Department in the surveillance warrant requests for Carter Page. Representative Jim Jordan (R-OH) said he’s “OK” with the deal, though he wanted a lot more. “But sometimes you got to step back,” he said. “And look, what are we going to get with Democrats in control of the House?”
Senator Rand Paul (R-KY) was not shy about criticizing the bill as weak in a tweet:
“The ‘Deal’ on FISA is weak sauce diluted [and] made impotent by A.G. Barr. None of the reforms prevent secret FISA court from abusing the rights of Americans. None of the reforms prevent a President of either party from a politically motivated investigation. Big Disappointment!”
Paul and Sen. Mike Lee (R-UT) are urging the president to veto the bill if it makes it to his desk.
Debates over the legislation saw it tossed back and forth without a decision until now. Last month, the Democrats had to pull it in the Judiciary Committee after Democratic reps Zoe Lofgren of California and Pramila Jayapal of Washington threatened to force them to vote on other FISA-related amendments if this act didn’t get more of an overhaul.
The bill has been passed to the Senate, which only has a few days to decide whether to send it on to Trump’s desk.
Read more from Kelli Ballard.