House Renews FISA Without Added Privacy Protections

House Speaker Paul Ryan R-Wis. during a news conference in the U.S. Capitol in Washington on Dec. 19 2017

Donald Trump suggested on Thursday that a key program to collect foreign intelligence could have been used by the Obama administration to "badly surveil and abuse" his campaign.

House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi asked Speaker Paul Ryan, a Republican, to cancel the vote after Trump's tweets, a senior aide said.

"'House votes on controversial FISA ACT today, '" Trump wrote, citing a Fox News headline. The current version of the law expires after January 19. That bill, which had strong support from both liberal and conservative civil liberties groups, would have required federal agents to get warrants before searching through Americans' data that is collected when the USA government spies on foreigners overseas. Asked by Reuters at a conference in NY about Trump's tweets, Rob Joyce, the top White House cyber official, said there was no confusion within Oval Office about the value of the surveillance program and that there have been no cases of it being used improperly for political purposes.

Also defeated was an amendment that would have prevented using a term related to a US person in searches of Federal Bureau of Investigation databases of communications of foreign entities obtained under FISA.

The reauthorization bill, S. 139, isn't directly related to the unmasking issue.

Section 702 of the FISA law was passed in 2008 after the Bush administration was shown to have allowed the then-illegal surveillance of telephone and online communications of USA citizens and residents in the wake of the September 11, 2001 terror attacks.

But later, Trump seemed to reverse course: "With that being said, I have personally directed the fix to the unmasking process since taking office and today's vote is about foreign surveillance of foreign bad guys on foreign land".

After the vote Thursday, Ryan, asked about his conversation with the president, said Trump's concerns regarded other parts of the law.

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It was created to spy on foreign citizens living outside the U.S. and specifically bars the targeting of American citizens or anyone residing in the U.S. But critics say the program also sweeps up the electronic data of innocent Americans who may be communicating with foreign nationals, even when those foreigners aren't suspected of terrorist activity.

After rejecting Amash's amendment, the House passed an underlying bill backed by members of the House Intelligence and Judiciary committees that renewed the NSA's warrantless surveillance program with just a few small changes.

The Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act is a roughly 40-year-old federal law limiting how USA spy agencies can monitor Americans' communications, first passed in the wake of 1970s Congressional investigations into privacy violations by the three-letter spy agencies. "We need it! Get smart!" he tweeted.

Communications companies represented by the Computer & Communications Companies were not please with the amendment's failure or the bill's passage.

The White House did not immediately respond to a request to clarify Trump's tweet but he posted a follow-up less than two hours later, after speaking on the phone with House Republican leader Paul Ryan. "We believe it's imperative that positive reforms with better protections for citizens and civil liberties be included in any new legislation". But there are exceptions - too many, say opponents.

The Trump administration and the intelligence community want to preserve the program as-is.

House Intelligence Chairman Devin Nunes of California and top panel Democrat Adam Schiff, also of California, both supported the bill, a product in part of bipartisan work that took place amid their divisive battles in the committee's probe over Russian interference in the 2016 presidential campaign.

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