Senate pushes forward FISA surveillance bill as expiration looms

The Senate voted to proceed to debate on a bill to renew Section 702 of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) on Thursday, clearing an important procedural hurdle before the previous version expires on Friday. 

A cloture motion to begin voting on the bill passed by a vote of 67-32, with senators of both parties supporting and opposing it. The chamber was able to avoid a potential filibuster by breaking the necessary 60-vote threshold. 

‘We obviously don’t have a lot of time left before FISA authorities expire. In fact, less than two days,’ Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., said on the floor ahead of the vote to begin debate. 

The renewal has the support of both Schumer and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky. The Kentucky Republican warned his Senate colleagues against pushing for an amendment to require warrants, as Republicans in the House did unsuccessfully. 

‘Misguided efforts to require a criminal-law warrant to sort and organize those data on U.S. persons would end the ability of the FBI to keep America and Americans safe,’ McConnell said earlier this week. 

‘Frankly, they would forget the lessons of 9/11,’ he claimed. ‘So I’ll oppose any such efforts and urge my colleagues to do the same.’

He noted that senators should expect votes on Friday if FISA is not reauthorized on Thursday. 

Some of the prominent senators voicing their opposition to the FISA bill are Sens. Mike Lee, R-Utah, and Rand Paul, R-Ky. Lee has made his objections to the lack of a provision requiring a warrant known. ‘The documented abuses under FISA should provoke outrage from anyone who values the Fourth Amendment Rights of American citizens,’ he said in a March statement while introducing a bipartisan bill to amend FISA. 

Paul has further claimed the bill allows ‘spying on Americans through FISA, the way they spied on Trump.’

On the other side, Sen. Jon Tester, D-Mont., also came out against the renewal. ‘I do not support reauthorizing FISA Section 702 in its current form and call on the Senate to take action to stop warrantless searches by the government and law enforcement agencies to protect Montanans’ freedom and privacy,’ he said in a statement. 

Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Ore., claimed the measure would ‘dramatically’ expand the powers given to the government under FISA. 

‘The government can force you to help it spy,’ he said in a statement. ‘That means anyone with access to a server, a wire, a cable box, a Wi-Fi router, a phone, or a computer.’ 

However, a much larger bipartisan coalition have underscored why they think renewing FISA is so important. ‘In this dangerous climate, it is clear that shutting down FISA would be the biggest national security mistake in the history of America,’ Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., said in a statement last week.

FBI Director Christopher Wray also recently pleaded with Congress to reauthorize the security tool, telling a House committee that ‘failing to reauthorize 702 or gutting it with some kind of warrant requirement would be dangerous and put American lives at risk.’ 

While many push for a quick renewal, several senators have expressed their desire to see changes to the legislation, putting passage before the Friday deadline in doubt.

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