Congress is debating NSA's spying powers. Demand they end warrantless surveillance on Americans.



NSA at Night by Trevor Paglen
Trevor Paglen

Once again, controversial National Security Agency (NSA) surveillance powers that affect millions of Americans are up for renewal in Congress, and lawmakers are attempting to ram through extreme and unconstitutional spying policies with virtually no debate.

Congress has known for years that Section 702 of the Foreign Intelligence Security Act—which allows the NSA to warrantlessly collect and read the communications of an untold number of Americans if they are talking to someone internationally—was set to expire at the end of the year. Yet as they did in 2012, Congress has waited until the very last minute to bring the topic up for a vote in the hopes that they could quickly pass a bill without the American public realizing what’s happening.

Civil liberties advocates have been decrying the NSA’s powers under Section 702 of FISA Amendments Act as unconstitutional for years, and a large bipartisan group of lawmakers have called for new restrictions. Yet House Republicans on Wednesday attempted to pass a bill that actually would have expanded these powers even further without any debate.

Not only would the Republicans’ bill have extended Section 702 with no reforms for years, but it would’ve explicitly allowed the FBI to target Americans’ emails in NSA databases without a warrant, and it would also have restarted the collection of Americans’ international emails that were merely about an NSA target—a controversial and unconstitutional practice that was just halted earlier this year.

If you want to read more about the extreme dangers in the bill that Republicans were proposing, Edward Snowden and the ACLU held a detailed Reddit AMA on the bill on Wednesday that you can read here.

But thankfully, after widespread outcry on Wednesday, the bill was pulled and a vote postponed. But the fight is far from over, and the next steps for Section 702 are uncertain. While it’s set to expire on December 31, the Trump administration is arguing it can keep the program going through at least April. Lawmakers could vote to temporarily reauthorize Section 702, or they could try again to rapidly push through legislation that expands NSA spying powers. 

But one thing’s for certain: As we saw yesterday, together we can pressure Congress to respect the Fourth Amendment. Americans deserve transparency, real legislative debate, and policies that keep them safe without violating their right to privacy.  Call your representatives and urge them to protect your privacy and vote no on reauthorization of Section 702 without serious reforms that end warrantless, mass surveillance.

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