US Senate Renews NSA Web Surveillance Program

Tom Jowitt is a leading British tech freelance and long standing contributor to TechWeek Europe

‘Carry on spying’, US lawmakers say after the senate renews NSA warrantless internet surveillance program

The National Security Agency (NSA) has been authorised to carry out warrantless internet surveillance for another six years.

It comes after the US senate renewed the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, despite attempts last August by the House of Representatives Judiciary Committee to reign in certain elements of the NSA program.

Attempts to change or lessen the act have failed, as the act has had minimal changes, despite the strenuous objections of civil liberty groups in the United States.

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No Warrants

Internet surveillance by intelligence agencies is a highly sensitive subject in many countries, ever since the scale of the NSA snooping on citizen’s data was first revealed in 2013 by whistleblower Edward Snowden.

Section 702 of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act had been set to expire on 31 December, but it is viewed as a vital piece of law by US intelligence agencies, as it allows them to carry out surveillance, and indeed store vast amounts of digital communications from foreign suspects living outside the United States.

But this program also collects and gathers communications of US citizens, who are not surveillance targets and are not communicating with targets.

US law enforcement then has free reign and can search these communications without a search warrant.

And now it seems that the legislation easily passed the House of Representatives last week, and is now expected to be signed into law by President Donald Trump by Friday.

Reuters said that Thursday’s 65-34 passage in the Senate was largely a foregone conclusion, after senators earlier this week cleared a 60-vote procedural hurdle.

The legislation had been opposed by a coalition of liberal Democrats and libertarian-leaning Republicans.

‘Terrible’ Surveillance Law

“Congress today missed a historic opportunity to reform an unconstitutional surveillance law, instead passing a version that makes it worse,” blogged Neema Singh Guliani, legislative counsel at the America Civil Liberties Union.

“Both Democrats and Republicans deserve sharp criticism for continuing to allow the NSA to engage in mass, warrantless spying,” said Guliani.

“The bill risks codifying illegal practices that have been used to collect purely domestic communications,” she warned. “It will also allow warrantless backdoor searches of Americans’ information to continue largely untouched, imposing a warrant requirement only in cases of an established criminal investigation.”

This sentiment was echoed by the Electronic Frontier Foundation.

“Today, the United States Congress struck a significant blow against the basic human right to read, write, learn, and associate free of government’s prying eyes,” wrote the EFF.

“Goaded by those who let fear override democratic principles, some members of Congress shuttered public debate in order to pass a bill that extends the National Security Agency’s unconstitutional Internet surveillance for six years,” it said.

“This means six more years of warrantless surveillance under Section 702 of the FISA Amendments Act,” said the EFF. “Today’s action also means six more years of FBI access to giant databases of these NSA-collected communications, for purposes of routine domestic law enforcement that stray far from the original justification of national security.”

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