Confusion and Drama Surround the FISA Reauthorization Vote

Today, by a vote of 256-164, the House of Representatives voted to renew the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act. This, if it passes the Senate before January 19, extends FISA for another six years and, most importantly, it extends the Section 702 program.

Section 702, on the surface, seems commonsense. It allows the intelligence community to conduct surveillance of foreign intelligence targets in the United States. It is, however, subject to abuse. If a foreign intelligence target is talking to an American, that American’s conversation is also recorded and his or her name attached to it. While, in theory, the name of the American is protected, that is, “masked,” unless they become suspected of a crime, the reality, we’ve seen, is that the United Nations Ambassador ordered the unmasking of over 220 US citizens in 2016 alone. The UN Ambassador.

The rest of FISA is questionable also. A report issued by the FISA Court accused the government of systemic abuses of the act. Health information, attorney-client conversations, and other non-material conversations were all swept up and made available for reading.

This, as so many other things, started out mundane. Last night the Trump administration asked the House to pass the FISA authorization as-is.

When the House opened for business, Justin Amash and Zoe Lofgren teamed up to replace Section 702 with the text of Rand Paul and Ron Wyden’s “USA Rights Act.

Essentially, the amendment says if an American is intercepted and you want to hear what they are saying, get a warrant.

Then President Trump knocked a Secret Service agent to the ground and retrieved his smartphone and with it his access to Twitter:

This caused more than a little confusion as one might imagine, along with the soiling of trousers in Department of Justice and the Office of the Director of National Intelligence.

The vote went on and finally Trump walked back his earlier tweet:

The notable thing here is that the vote was expected to be a cliffhanger and, in the end, it really wasn’t close.

Now the bill moves on to the Senate. Mike Lee and Rand Paul and others are lined up against it, but you have to put your money on the odds that the bill will pass.