House Renews FISA Without Added Privacy Protections

The House has renewed the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act 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.

The bill now goes to the Senate, where Goodlatte said it would pass.

Communications companies represented by the Computer & Communications Companies were not please with the amendment's failure or the bill's passage.

"As the clock ticks on authorization for government surveillance, we recognize that legislation in this area is facing a deadline for some type of renewal," said CCIA President Ed Black. "We believe it’s imperative that positive reforms with better protections for citizens and civil liberties be included in any new legislation. We will now look to improve the legislation before it moves to the Senate.” The President tweeted about the bill before the vote, both suggesting it was used against him unfairly

“House votes on controversial FISA ACT today.” 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?

— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) January 11, 2018

and saying that he was fixing the problem and renewing FISA was necessary:

With that being said, I have personally directed the fix to the unmasking process since taking office and today’s vote is about foreign surveillance of foreign bad guys on foreign land. We need it! Get smart!

— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) January 11, 2018

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.