The Senate on Thursday overwhelmingly voted to reauthorize three national security surveillance authorities that have been expired since March.
The chamber voted 80-16 to extend the surveillance authorities under the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act.
The vote occurred after the Senate adopted a bipartisan amendment on Wednesday from Republican Sen. Mike Lee of Utah and Democratic Sen. Patrick Leahy of Vermont to provide additional legal protections in the FISA court for targets of surveillance warrants. The Senate’s amendment means the House will have to pass the new version of the legislation before it goes to the President’s desk.
The Senate rejected an amendment on Thursday, 85-11, from GOP Sen. Rand Paul of Kentucky, which would have required traditional courts to approve FISA warrants for US citizens. On Wednesday, the Senate narrowly defeated an amendment from Sens. Steve Daines, a Montana Republican, and Ron Wyden, an Oregon Democrat, that would have curbed surveillance of internet browser and search history. It failed to meet the 60-vote threshold by a single vote.
The Senate vote came two months after the House initially approved the legislation to reauthorize the surveillance authorities in March. The House put the bill together after striking a bipartisan deal that added some civil liberties protections and made reforms to the FISA court following a blistering inspector general report critical of the FISA warrants obtained for former Trump adviser Carter Page.
But civil libertarians in both chambers – and both parties – argued the agreement did not go far enough to protect individual rights.
“The legislation hands the government power for warrantless collection of Americans’ web browsing and internet searches, as well as other private information, without having to demonstrate that those Americans have done anything wrong, or even were in contact with anyone suspected of wrongdoing,” Wyden said in a statement. “The bill fails to close loopholes that the government could use to collect Americans’ records without any court oversight at all.”
While some of President Donald Trump’s allies, like Paul, have urged him to veto the legislation, he is expected to sign it once it reaches his desk, as Attorney General William Barr and congressional allies like Rep. Jim Jordan of Ohio and Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy helped negotiate the agreement in the House.
But a Justice Department spokesman sounded displeasure with the version of the FISA reauthorization bill the Senate passed Thursday, with the amendment strengthening outside oversight of sensitive surveillance cases.
“We appreciate the Senate’s reauthorization of three expired national security authorities. As amended, however, H.R. 6172 would unacceptably degrade our ability to conduct surveillance of terrorists, spies and other national security threats,” spokesman Marc Raimondi said.
The legislation reauthorizes the authorities included in the 2015 USA Freedom Act, which updated the 2001 Patriot Act. It includes a reauthorization of FISA’s Section 215, which allows law enforcement to collect “tangible things” in national security investigations, a roving wiretaps provision and a “lone wolf” provision.
The surveillance provisions have been expired since March. The House easily passed its bill that month, but the Senate faced objections from swiftly approving the measure from Paul and Lee. Instead, the Senate agreed to hold amendment votes at a later date and passed a short-term, 75-day extension. The House, which had already left amid the coronavirus pandemic, did not take up the short-term extension.
Opponents are pushing for additional changes before the House votes on the new version of the legislation. Democratic Rep. Zoe Lofgren of California, who argued the House’s bill did not go far enough to protect civil liberties, urged the House in a statement Thursday to include the amendment from Daines and Wyden that was narrowly defeated in the Senate – and which would have gotten 60 votes had all senators been present.
“It’s now the House’s responsibility to curb this violation of Americans’ rights. I know it’s still within our grasp as lawmakers to push for the significant privacy reforms we need,” Lofgren said in a statement.