On Thursday, the House voted to renew FISA, an important foreign surveillance program. The vote came amidst a heated debate in the House with president Donald Trump sending mixed signals on the issue. The vote was designed to renew Section 702 of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act. The legislation allows intelligence operatives to gather info on foreign targets abroad. The house voted 256 against 164 to pass the motion. The bill will now head for the Senate.
According to many proponents who voted to renew the program, this was a matter of national security. Many argue that, in the past, the FISA program has been quite effective in tackling global terrorism. House Speaker Paul Ryan was one of the key members of the House backing the bill. The speaker said that it was important for the US to be aware of what terrorist organizations were planning abroad and this wouldn’t be possible without the renewal of the FISA program. Ryan also added that without the FISA program, there could be grave national security consequences.
House members who voted against the bill were worried that it would very easy for Americans to get swept under the whole process. Issues of privacy were also raised. The Senate will now debate the merits and demerits of the bill before a vote is held. But there is already clear opposition. Kentucky Republican Sen. Rand Paul has come forward in open opposition to the program saying that he will mount a filibuster against it. Paul feels that the program could have negative implications for the privacy of most Americans.
The bill as it was passed by the House will allow the FBI to continue using a key database to gather information on Americans. However, investigators will need a probable cause warrant in order to view the information that they have gathered. A clause that was designed to impose stricter restrictions for the FBI was struck by the House before the bill was passed.
President Trump has had a mixed outlook on the bill. The president has openly made it clear that he supported the renewal of section 702 of the FISA program. However, he still maintained that the program was used to conduct illegal surveillance on his campaign.
Former FBI director James Comey also weighed on the matter. Comey is of the opinion that section 702 should be renewed because it has played a key role in national security. He added that the renewal was not about politics. It was a matter of national security and it was prudent for House members to work together to renew it.
California Rep. Adam Schiff sought to have the vote delayed saying that serious privacy issues had been raised. Schiff also sighted the mixed messages coming from the White House as a good enough reason to delay the vote while important issues are ironed out. Nonetheless, the FISA bill was passed and it’s now up to the Senate to pass it into law. A bipartisan engagement is expected in the Senate once the bill comes to the floor.