Trump criticizes surveillance law his administration wants to extend, then reverses

Marie Harrington
January 12, 2018

The problem, according to privacy advocates and civil liberties groups, is that the emails, photos, texts and other electronic communications of USA citizens and legal US residents are also collected while our government is spying on foreigners.

Section 702 of the FISA Act gives the government the ability to monitor electronic communications of foreigners outside of the U.S. Supporters say the powers help stop terrorist attacks and cyberattacks, but opponents note that it can also monitor the communications of Americans if they are communicating with monitored targets.

The administration has lobbied Congress to reauthorize the law, and it opposes any efforts to water it down to protect the privacy of American citizens.

The Nunes-Schiff bill faces an uncertain future in the Senate, where Kentucky Sen.

As noted by Matthew Gertz of Media Matters, Trump's Thursday morning tweet appeared to be inspired by a Fox & Friends segment featuring Fox News Senior Judicial Analyst Judge Andrew Napolitano, who urged Trump not to support FISA reauthorization.

On Thursday morning, the USA president tweeted that the programme had been used by the Obama administration to "so badly surveil and abuse the Trump campaign".

Trump later tweeted what seemed to be a clarification of his position in favor of renewing the law, saying that "today's vote is about foreign surveillance of foreign bad guys on foreign land".

The FBI and intelligence agencies say being able to query the database is essential to keeping America safe and the Trump administration had wanted the program to be reauthorized without change. Some privacy groups said it would actually expand the NSA's surveillance powers.

Trump then called House Speaker Paul Ryan and they spoke for half an hour. They say the law has already thwarted several terrorist plots against the US, including a planned attack on the New York City subway system.

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The bill approved by the House allows the Federal Bureau of Investigation to continue scanning the database, using search terms, for information on Americans. Paul said he could only support it if it includes his amendment.

However, when "millions of Americans are incidentally collected in the database, we don't want people willy-nilly looking into this database without a warrant", said Paul.

Thursday's vote was a major blow to privacy and civil liberties advocates, who just two years ago celebrated passage of a law effectively ending the NSA's bulk collection of US phone call records, another top-secret program exposed by Snowden.

"Section 702 is a critical tool that the intelligence community uses properly to target non-U.S. person outside of the United States that is vital to US security", he said.

The law also has been credited by intelligence officials with foiling terrorist plots to bomb the New York City subway system and the New York Stock Exchange.

Codify the end of "about" collection, an invasive type of surveillance that was heavily criticized by the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court for privacy violations. But she added, "The president doesn't believe Americans' rights or liberties should be abused, but he certainly believes Americans should be protected".

But top Democrats on the House and Senate intelligence committees were quick to leap on the first tweet as "irresponsible" and "untrue".

"I do think we need more time to work on this bill and I think that was only underscored this morning by the contradictory statements coming out of the administration", he said, calling for "more time to discuss this with our members".

"Spying on foreigners without following the constitution, that is okay", Democratic Congressman Ted Lieu said during debate on the amendment.

Other reports by TheSundaySentinel

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