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House Democrats call on Republicans to pull FISA bill, cite Trump tweet

12 January 2018

The White House issued a stern statement late Wednesday pleading with Congress not to approve strict limits to the government's foreign spy powers, suggesting that adding civil rights checks could lead to another September 11-style attack. And with the FISA law set to expire in the coming days, unless Congress acted to revive it, they had an opening to push new changes to USA surveillance law.

This week Congress is getting ready to vote to reauthorize FISA 702.

The Senate still must vote on the bill before the program expires on January 19. Sen.

Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., said Thursday he meant to do "everything in my power, including filibuster", to impede the bill next week, but he is unlikely to block the bill's eventual passage.

Trump's position Thursday morning seemed to be in opposition to the Trump administration's position, potentially putting the reauthorization vote in doubt.

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Long frustrated with the program, civil-liberties activists - in and outside of Congress - had sought new limits on those powers this year.

The portion of law - known as the FISA Amendments Act - particularly allows the USA intelligence community to collect emails, texts and other communications data about foreigners who are overseas. "This is the act that may have been used, with the help of the discredited and phony Dossier, to so badly surveil and abuse the Trump Campaign by the previous administration and others?", he wrote on Twitter. Wednesday night, White House spokeswoman Sarah Sanders urged the House to reject the alternate proposal and "preserve the useful role FISA's Section 702 authority plays in protecting American lives".

The reauthorization is potentially a politically fraught issue on Capitol Hill, and the House is expected to vote on the bill later Thursday. But under the eavesdropping authorized by the law's Section 702, the NSA incidentally collects a lot of communications of Americans without individual warrants.

"The Bill of Rights requires that information be gathered under the 4th Amendment with probable cause, and naming the person, naming the papers", Paul said.

Trump then spoke by telephone with House Speaker Paul Ryan, according to a Republican familiar with the call but not allowed to publicly discuss private conversations.

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"You have to realize that all of us are caught up in this", he said. But it's unclear whether the bill has enough support.

After the House approved the renewal, Paul vowed to fight it in the Senate. About two-thirds of the Republicans voted against the amendment and about two-thirds of the Democrats voted for it, so it wasn't really a "party line" vote, but the Democrats could have pushed it through had they all supported it.

The Prism program collects communications from internet services directly.

They're pushing an alternative that would require the government to have a warrant before it snoops through the data to investigate Americans for ordinary crimes. House Intelligence Committee Chairman Devin Nunes, in an attempt to protect Trump and his team, and falsely attack the Obama administration, alleged had been taking place for political purposes. The law must be changed to account for this, and future presidents. But fewer lawmakers there appear to favour major changes to spying laws, so the House vote is likely the effective end of a debate over 21st-century surveillance technology and privacy rights that broke out in 2013 following the leaks by the intelligence contractor Edward J. Snowden. FISA is unconstitutional, and can potentially be abused by any president that wants to violate the privacy of an American citizen. Democratic Sen. Ron Wyden and Republican Sen. But top Democrats seized on the confusion, calling on Republican leaders to withdraw the bill from consideration "in light of the irresponsible and inherently contradictory messages coming out of the White House today", Rep. Adam Schiff of California, the ranking Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee, said on the floor. Democrats say there is no evidence that happened.

"The new warrant requirement in this bill, such as it is, is a fig leaf for reform and fails to address the vast majority of searches of 702 information - and we know this because the Federal Bureau of Investigation admitted as much to us", Nadler said.

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House Democrats call on Republicans to pull FISA bill, cite Trump tweet