Supporters of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, or FISA, took to the House floor this afternoon in support of the law that governs electronic surveillance and collection of intelligence of foreign nationals’ communications with American citizens. Rep. Lamar Smith, the champion of the controversial SOPA legislation, led the Republican delegation in favor of the reauthorization of the law. Those that spoke in favor of FISA, invoked the imagery of the terrorist attacks on September 11, 2001 to justify the spying program.
Speaking in favor of the legislation, Rep. Dan Lungren said that FISA was “critical to the protection of the American people.” Also speaking in favor of the legislation, Rep. Trey Gowdy said that “if we could come together to remember 9/11, surely we can come together to prevent another one.” Each supporter of the bill dismissed any concern for civil liberties and used the specter of a possible terrorist attack as justification.
Later this afternoon, on a vote of 301 to 118 the House voted to reauthorize FISA. If the law is passed through the Senate, it would be extended through 2017. The number of votes in favor of the bill was actually hire than the 293 that voted to extend the law in 2008.
The Obama Administration and intelligence agency officials have lobbied for the extension of the of FISA. Reuters reports that Robert Litt, chief lawyer for the Office of Director of National Intelligence, said that the extensive was a “top priority” and that if it was not extended intelligence agencies would lose a “very, very important source of valuable intelligence information.”
During a speech Northwestern University Law School, Attorney General Eric Holder said that FISA “ensures that the government has the flexibility and agility it needs to identify and to respond to terrorist and other foreign threats to our security. But the government may not use this authority intentionally to target a U.S. person, here or abroad, or anyone known to be in the United States.” However, the Holder’s Department of Justices has been blocking the release of any records pertaining to FISA. So, essentially the message is: Trust us.
Critics of the law have called for stronger protects of civil liberties, and Senator Ron Wyden has placed a hold on the bill until there are stricter protections against warrantless spying. A loophole in the bill allows for warrantless surveillance if targets are not located within the United States. This coupled with a lack of transparency troubles privacy advocates. The Federation of American Scientists noted that despite concerns, amendments that would have provided increased public disclosure and accountability regarding the law’s use have been rejected.
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