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regular-article-logo Friday, 31 May 2024

US Senate approves extension of warrantless surveillance law, crucial to fight against terrorism

The law, known as Section 702 of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, or FISA, had appeared all but certain to lapse over the weekend, with senators unable for most of Friday to reach a deal on whether to consider changes opposed by national security officials and hawks

Charlie Savage, Luke Broadwater Washington Published 21.04.24, 07:22 AM
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Representational image File image

The Senate early on Saturday approved an extension of a warrantless surveillance law, moving to renew it shortly after it had expired and sending President Joe Biden legislation that national security officials say is crucial to fighting terrorism but that privacy advocates decry as a threat to Americans’ rights.

The law, known as Section 702 of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, or FISA, had appeared all but certain to lapse over the weekend, with senators unable for most of Friday to reach a deal on whether to consider changes opposed by national security officials and hawks.

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But after hours of negotiation, the Senate abruptly reconvened late on Friday for a flurry of votes in which those proposed revisions were rejected, one by one, and early Saturday the bill, which extends Section 702 for two years, won approval, 60-34.

“We have good news for America’s national security,” Senator Chuck Schumer, the majority leader, said as he stood during the late-night session to announce the agreement to complete work on the bill. “Allowing FISA to expire would have been dangerous.”

In a statement, attorney general Merrick Garland praised the bill’s passage, calling Section 702 “indispensable to the justice department’s work to protect the American people from terrorist, nation-state, cyber and other threats”.

Before final passage, the Senate rapidly voted down a series of amendments proposed by privacy-minded lawmakers. Approving any of them would have sent the bill back to the House, allowing the statute to lapse for a more significant period.

“Any amendment added to this bill at this moment is the equivalent of killing the bill,” warned Senator Mark Warner.

While the programme has legal authority to continue operating until April 2025 regardless of whether Congress extended the law, the White House sent a statement to senators on Friday warning them that a “major provider has indicated it intends to cease collection on Monday” and that another said it was considering stopping collection. The statement did not identify them, and the Justice Department declined to say more.

The statement also said that the administration was confident that the FISA court would order any such companies to resume complying with the programme, but that there could be gaps in collection in the meantime.

New York Times News Service

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