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COLUMN: Trump administration finds bipartisan backing for vast spying powers

On Thursday, Republicans and Democrats in the House of Representatives united to trample on Americans’ privacy.

The House passed a bill to reauthorize the 2008 amendments to the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, which included section 702. 

This section, brought to public attention by Edward Snowden in  2013, provides the legal basis for the National Security Agency’s spying programs that allowed for the NSA to survey communications of foreigners outside of the United States. 

The FISA Amendments Reauthorization Act was passed 256-164, garnering the votes of 191 Republicans and 65 Democrats.

Eight of Indiana’s nine representatives backed the bill, including one Democrat, Rep. André Carson, D-7th District, and our own Trey Hollingsworth, R-9th District. The only Indiana representative to oppose it was Peter Visclosky, D-1st District.

The bill does include some slight limitations on the NSA's foreign surveillance capabilities. One limitation is ceasing a procedure in which the FBI searches the communications between U.S. citizens and non-U.S. persons, if the foreigner did not start the contact

It requires the FBI to obtain warrants for these searches if they are in relation to an open criminal investigation. 

That is not a meaningful cap on the FBI’s access to Section 702 data, because the FBI’s constant searches of the data are rarely in connection with open criminal investigations. On top of that, the exceptions for national security and threats to life or of serious bodily harm provide ample wiggle room.

Rep. Justin Amash, R-Michigan, gave the House a chance to rein in mass surveillance of Americans by introducing an amendment to replace the bill with the USA RIGHTS Act, which would require federal authorities to obtain warrants before searching the communications of U.S. persons, in accordance with the 4th Amendment.

One would think that House Democrats — who have spent the past year decrying Trump’s authoritarianism and Attorney General Jeff Sessions’ bigotry — would be eager to limit their powers to spy on Americans. But while 125 House Democrats did support the Amash amendment, 55 of them voted with a majority of House Republicans to kill it.

Those 55 included Adam Schiff, D-California the ranking Democrat on the House intelligence committee, Debbie Wasserman Schultz, D-Florida, the former chair of the Democratic National Committee, and Nancy Pelosi, D-California, the House Minority Leader.

How can leading Democrats lambast Trump for using his power to persecute political opponents, among other despotic behaviors, and simultaneously expand the methods of surveillance at his disposal?

The idea that the U.S. government would spy on its citizens’ private communications without warrants used to be scandalous in American politics. Now, it’s bipartisan policy.

The way we got to this place is through the exploitation of terrorism for fearmongering. Devin Nunes, R-California, the chair of the House Intelligence Committee, circulated fliers featuring foreboding pictures of ISIS fighters in the run-up to Thursday’s vote.

While terrorist attacks are tragic in every instance, it is ludicrous to believe we have to sacrifice our most basic civil liberties for an uncertain chance of slightly reducing a phenomenon that killed fewer than 200 Americans in the U.S between 2002 and 2016. 

We must resist the growing acceptance of warrantless surveillance of Americans.

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