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US Senate votes to reauthorise surveillance programme

u.s.senate democrats hold weekly policy lunch at the u.s. capitol in washington
US Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer

By Jasper Ward

The US Senate voted late on Friday night to approve the reauthorisation of a controversial surveillance programme, narrowly missing the midnight expiration of the programme.

The reauthorisation secures what supporters call a key element of the United States’ foreign intelligence-gathering operation.

“Democrats and Republicans came together and did the right thing for our country safety,” Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer said.

“We all know one thing: letting FISA expire would be dangerous. It’s an important part of our national security, to stop acts of terror, drug trafficking and violent extreme extremism.”

FISA has attracted criticism from both Republican and Democratic lawmakers, who argue it violates Americans’ constitutional right to privacy. The bill was blocked three times in the past five months by House Republicans bucking their party, before passing last week by a 273-147 vote when its duration was shortened from five years to two years.

The White House, intelligence chiefs and top lawmakers on the House Intelligence Committee have warned of potentially catastrophic effects of not reauthorising the programme, which was first created in the aftermath of the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks.

Although the right to privacy is enshrined in the US Constitution, the data of foreign nationals gathered by the programme often includes communications with Americans, and can be mined by domestic law enforcement bodies such as the FBI without a warrant.

That has alarmed both hardline Republicans and far-left Democrats. Recent revelations that the FBI used this power to hunt for information about Black Lives Matter protesters, congressional campaign donors and US lawmakers have raised further doubts about the programme’s integrity.

 

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