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Senate votes to re-approve FISA surveillance powers

Senator John Thune (R-SD), Senator Roy Blunt (R-MO) and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) leave for a lunch on Republican politics in the Hart Senate office building in Washington on May 5, 2020 of the Senate, DC.

Senator John Thune (R-SD), Senator Roy Blunt (R-MO) and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) leave for a lunch on Republican politics in the Hart Senate office building in Washington on May 5, 2020 of the Senate, DC.
photo:: Drew Angerer (Getty)

In a vote between 80 and 16 on Thursday, the U.S. Senate passed a law to restore controversial surveillance tools that the FBI uses in terrorism and espionage investigations. However, thanks to a number of changes made yesterday, the bill still has to overcome at least one more hurdle.

A bipartisan amendment to the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, introduced by data protection officers on Wednesday, will strengthen legal protection for surveillance objectives by adding independent advisors with expertise in civil liberties, especially in cases where activities under the First Amendment are protected . It also codifies the requirement that federal agents pursuing secret warrants be required to provide exonerating evidence to the special FISA court.

These changes, introduced by Senator Mike Lee, Utah Republican, and Patrick Leahy, Vermont Democrat, mean that the bill is now being returned to the home that originally passed the bill in March.

Three surveillance tools are permitted under the bill: the first allows the FBI to secretly obtain so-called “business records” under Section 215 of the United States Patriot Act, provided they are “relevant” to international counterterrorism, counterintelligence or investigations into foreign intelligence services. After Edward Snowden announced in 2013 that the government was using Section 215 to collect billions of domestic phone records, the USA FREEDOM Act was passed to limit the amount of material “as reasonably practicable as possible” and to request the government to provide evidence There is “reason to believe” that the records are “relevant” to any of the above types of investigation.

In addition, arrest warrants for entire geographic regions, such as postcodes, were no longer permitted.

The second tool is known as “Roving Wiretap”. This is a secret electronic surveillance instruction that allows the FBI to monitor a target on any number of personal devices, rather than targeting a specific phone number (or email account) to communicate. The purpose is supposed to be to allow agents to continuously monitor a target, even if they use what are known as burners, devices that are designed for single use and are then thrown away.

The third tool is known as the Lone Wolf change. It allows the FBI to take action against someone suspected of being involved in international terrorism, even if the agents cannot prove that the person is associated with a known terrorist organization.

A bipartisan attempt to further amend the bill to prevent the FBI from receiving Americans’ web browser and Internet search histories in accordance with section 215 failed 27 Republicans and 10 Democrats voted against on Wednesday. The amendment, which was submitted by Senator Ron Wyden, Democrat of Oregon, and Senator Steve Daines, Republican of Montana, dropped a “yes” vote below the 60-vote threshold for adoption.

Privacy advocates sharply criticized lawmakers for voting against Daines-Wyden’s amendment and argued that home protection should be reintroduced.

“Without additional safeguards that would limit the information that spy agencies can collect without a warrant, Congress will give the Trump administration the power to discover billions of data points for every individual in the United States,” said Sandra Fulton, director of government relations at Free Press. “Fortunately, many Republicans join the Democrats to say that the original legislation is insufficient to protect everyone’s privacy rights.”

Re-approval of the surveillance comes at an unusually controversial time since President Donald Trump has repeatedly attacked the FBI because he sees the Obama administration’s campaign as spying for his 2016 campaign and after the change of government.

A general report from the Department of Justice inspector last year identified significant issues in the FBI process to receive a FISA arrest warrant to monitor Carter Page, a former advisor to the Trump campaign. In October 2016, a federal judge ruled that there was reason to believe that Page, whom Russian spies had previously tried to recruit, was gathering information on behalf of the Kremlin.

Page was not accused of crimes. The Inspector General concluded last year that while the FBI was not politically motivated to monitor Page, the FISA court had not informed that Page was a CIA source.

Regardless, the Republicans announced the names of several Obama administration officials on Wednesday, including then Vice President Joe Biden, who asked to show the edited name of a person who contributed in a secret report as a US person in contact with the Russian ambassador the United States government identified the United States, Sergey Kislyak. Russia had previously been fingered by the U.S. intelligence agency as responsible for hacking various members of the Democratic Party, the messages of which were published by WikiLeaks.

Then it turned out that the name of the person in the report was Michael Flynn, who was selected as the new president’s national security advisor. Flynn was later released less than a month later after admitting misleading Vice President Mike Pence about his Russian contacts. Flynn later pleaded guilty to lying to the FBI and agreed to cooperate with the Special Counsel’s investigation into Russia’s interference in the 2016 elections.

Trump has presented the “unmasking” as evidence that the Obama administration spied on him during his transition, even though the documents released by the GOP legislator that have nothing to do with the FBI do not necessarily reflect anything inappropriate. The names of Americans in reports from foreign intelligence agencies are hidden, but can be “exposed” by persons with special security checks, if this is necessary to understand the intelligence agencies.

In a highly unusual move this month, the Justice Department announced it would drop Flynn’s charges. A US district judge stopped this effort this week and expected to hear from third parties who have a legal interest in the case. John Gleeson, a former federal judge in Brooklyn, has was appointed oppose the government case, free Flynn and determine whether Flynn, who withdraws his admission of guilt, opens him to perjury charges.

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