Privacy Law

House rejects privacy limits in voting to reauthorize new warrantless surveillance law

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The U.S. House of Representatives rejected privacy limits on Thursday when it approved a six-year extension of the law that permits warrantless surveillance of foreign targets that can also sweep up Americans’ communications.

The bill reauthorizing Section 702 of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act goes next to the Senate, where additional privacy protections are expected to be rejected, report the New York Times and NPR. The current law expires Jan. 19, USA Today reports. The Huffington Post also has coverage.

Backers of the bill say it is a critical foreign intelligence tool that helps catch terrorists.

The House turned down an amendment that would have required warrants in most cases before Americans’ emails and other messages that are collected in the mass surveillance could be searched for and read.

One change that passed requires a warrant if an FBI agent wants to read emails about a subject of an open criminal investigation that does not involve national security.

Another change included in the bill temporarily stops the collection of communications that mention a surveillance target, but aren’t to or from that target. The temporary change expires after the government develops new procedures for such “about” communications, gains approval from the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court, and briefs key congressional committees, according to a fact sheet.

A Just Security article published in advance of the bill’s passage criticizes the requirement for a warrant in full-blown criminal investigations as inadequate.

It is routine practice for the FBI to run searches through data collected pursuant to Section 702 even during the preliminary stages of an investigation, according to the article by Sharon Bradford Franklin, a senior fellow at New America’s Open Technology Institute.

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