Section 702, Controversial Section of FISA, Reauthorized by Congress


The Senate passed a bill reauthorizing section 702 of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA), sending it to the president’s desk for signature.  The president is expected to approve it.

Section 702 of FISA allows the U.S. intelligence community to surveille the communications of non-U.S. citizens on foreign soil.  The section has become controversial over the past year as the Russia investigation has dominated headlines, and questions about whether communications of American citizens, on American soil, have been illegally swept up in the surveillance.

A version of the bill that would have curtailed the section’s authority significantly was being considered and had significant support from Republicans, as well as some Democrats.  Supporters of that bill argued that section 702’s authority needed to be scaled back because it’s inevitable that U.S. citizens’ communications are monitored in the course of intelligence gathering.  Ultimately a version of the bill that keeps the program largely intact was voted on and passed.

This bill does include some reforms that supporter say strengthens privacy protection, however.  It institutes a new requirement for intelligence agencies to obtain search warrants as well as new congressional oversight of searches conducted by the government.

The bill nearly failed to pass when it initially did not get the 60 votes necessary to overcome a filibuster.  Several senators had to be convinced on the senate floor to change their votes.  The bill ultimately passed by a 65-34 vote.  The section will not be up for reauthorization again until 2024.


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