FFTF Targets Dems Over FISA Bill

The Senate is scheduled to vote Tuesday (Jan. 16) on S.139, the Senate version of the House bill reauthorizing key provisions of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act.

In advance of that, privacy advocates were pledging to target Democrats who support the bill, and wanted their supporters to do so, literally.

Fight for the Future, which sees the bill as allowing "mass government spying" on the communications--phone calls, e-mails, texts--of U.S. citizens, planned to crowdfund billboards ahead of the midterm elections calling out Democratic senators if they vote to reauthorize.

As an example, they pointed to Adam Schiff (D-Calif.), ranking member of the House Intelligence Committee, who they say opposed reinstating warrant protections, and circulated a mock-up of what the billboard could look like (see picture).

“The power to turn the Internet into a weapon for mass surveillance is too dangerous for any government to have, but it’s unthinkable in the hands of the Trump administration, which has clearly shown it will use these powers to target the most vulnerable people in our country,” said a representative of the group. “Any lawmaker who votes to reauthorize and expand these unconstitutional spying powers is standing on the wrong side of history while enabling totalitarianism and mass discrimination. Constituents deserve to know when their lawmakers are not fighting for their rights but, rather, obstructing them.”

The House last week voted to renew FISA provisions without an amendment that would have added protections for the private communications of U.S. citizens from government surveillance.

FISA allows for the accessing of communications with foreign entities, but legislators from both parties have been looking to rein in warrantless searches of the communications of U.S. residents (when they are on the other end of those communications). It is just the latest attempt to address that issue.

The White House had opposed the amendment, and supported the bill as passed.

The amendment that was defeated would have ended warrantless backdoor searches of Americans' calls, emails, texts and other communications.

The bill does require, for the first time according to Judiciary Committee Chairman Bob Goodlatte (R-Va.), that the government obtain a warrant to access data on U.S. persons in criminal investigations and will prevent the FBI from using information collected incidentally from such communications in criminal investigations. Goodlatte said the bill does have meaningful reforms, and he would have preferred more, but that the option was not between a perfect bill and letting the FISA section sunset.

Also defeated was an amendment that would have prevented using a term related to a U.S. person in searches of FBI databases of communications of foreign entities obtained under FISA. Goodlatte said law enforcement should be able to perform such searches, which might have revealed whether someone was taking flying lessons without wanting to know how to land the plane.

John Eggerton

Contributing editor John Eggerton has been an editor and/or writer on media regulation, legislation and policy for over four decades, including covering the FCC, FTC, Congress, the major media trade associations, and the federal courts. In addition to Multichannel News and Broadcasting + Cable, his work has appeared in Radio World, TV Technology, TV Fax, This Week in Consumer Electronics, Variety and the Encyclopedia Britannica.