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House Votes to Renew, Expand Authority to Snoop on Americans

Push by lawmakers for stricter warrant requirements fails.

Justin AmashMembers of the House rejected today an effort to mandate that federal officials obtain warrants to access data collected secretly about Americans as part of the push to renew foreign intelligence surveillance authorizations.

The USA RIGHTS Act, pushed in the house by Reps. Justin Amash (R-Mich.) and Zoe Lofgren (D-Calif.) was not adopted. After an intense debate, the vote failed 183-233.

The USA RIGHTS Act was an attempt to fix some serious privacy problems with the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) authorities under Section 702. Though FISA is supposed to be used for snooping on foreign targets, it has been brought to bear against Americans and used for domestic crime cases, secretly and without warrants.

Section 702 was set to expire at the end of 2017 and civil rights groups and privacy-minded lawmakers demanded reforms so that the FBI and National Security Administration (NSA) would be required to get warrants before accessing or even querying these databases for information and communications from Americans.

That's what the USA RIGHTS Act was meant to do, and it failed. About two-thirds of the Republicans voted against the amendment and about two-thirds of the Democrats voted for it, so it wasn't really a "party line" vote, but the Democrats could have pushed it through had they all supported it. Several ranking Democrats openly supported increasing the powers of a surveillance state, even under a president they loathe. (House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi and Intelligence Committee Ranking Member Adam Schiff, both Democrats, voted against Amash.)

Instead, the House voted 256 to 164 in favor of the FISA Amendments Reauthorization Act of 2017. This bill doesn't just renew Section 702 for six years; it also codifies permission for the FBI to access and use data secretly collected by Americans for a host of criminal cases that have nothing to do with protecting America from foreign threats. There had been some attempts to get some warrant demands in the bill, but as surveillance expert Marcy Wheeler has noted, the law was worded so that it applies only if you're a suspect of a crime. That is to say, people suspected of criminal activity have greater privacy protections under the law than those who just have their data and communications snatched up en masse.

The American Civil Liberties Union is not thrilled. A response from Neema Singh Guliani, their policy counsel:

"The House voted today to give President Trump and his administration more spying powers. The government will use this bill to continue warrantless intrusions into Americans' private emails, text messages, and other communications.

"No president should have this power. Yet, members of Congress just voted to hand it to an administration that has labeled individuals as threats based merely on their religion, nationality, or viewpoints. The Senate should reject this bill and rein in government surveillance powers to bring Section 702 in line with the Constitution."

Now the reauthorization goes to the Senate, where Sens. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) and Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) have sponsored the Senate version of the USA RIGHTS Act. They have both already tweeted their responses to what happened in the House today:

It's filibuster time! Clearly Paul and others need to try to book some time on Fox and Friends and try to convince President Donald Trump to switch his position back to opposing domestic surveillance.

Update: Amash tweeted his response to the amendment's failure:


This post was corrected to fix Rep. Zoe Lofgren's party affiliation.

Photo Credit: Jeff Malet Photography/Newscom

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  • Citizen X - #6||

    Christ, what a chamberful of assholes.

  • Citizen X - #6||

    I'm heartened to note that my congressman voted with Amash. Even though i'm pretty sure he did so only because the FISA Act didn't guarantee enough surveillance analyst jobs would be reserved for minorities.

  • DaveSs||

    Wish my (Dipshit) did

    Would have meant he made at least one good vote this year.

  • GroundTruth||

    Ew, what a mental picture that painted... I could practically smell the stink.

    Very appropriate.

  • chemjeff||

    "Zoe Lofgren (R-Calif.)"

    I think that should be: (D-Calif.)

    C'mon Shack, do I have to proofread all of your articles? :)

  • Scott S.||

    Fixed. Weirdly, I caught that mistake in editing but somehow it ended in the live post anyway. Ah well.

  • loveconstitution1789||

    Any Congressman who votes for warrantless spying on Americans should be hauled into the ethics committee and forced to resign for violating the Constitution and their oath of office.

  • JFree||

    Well I can pretty much bet you'll be advocating the reelection of all 178 R's who voted for that - because R

  • loveconstitution1789||

    Shucks there genius, that is why I want them out of Congress.

    You're a nitwit.

  • Tionico||

    well when THAT happens we'd better throw one heckuva celebration.

  • Rhywun||

    Nice way to deflect any attention from your team, ACLU. What a disgusting bunch of partisan hacks they have become.

  • Hail Rataxes||

    Thanks for pointing out the real villains here.

  • Rhywun||

    Yeah, that's exactly what I did. You got me!

  • Bacon-Magic glib reasonoid||

    Fuck them all with a rusty spoon. I'm a big fan of term limits and voting no on anything they try to push down our throats.

  • Rhywun||

    I'm a big fan of term limits

    I used to be until I noticed that constant turnover just brings in loonier crackpots than the ones that just left. It doesn't actually solve anything.

  • sarcasmic||

    I agree. The problem isn't the specific people who get elected, it's the kind of people who are attracted to the job in the first place.

    A desire for political office should immediately disqualify anyone from holding it.

  • Citizen X - #6||

    Congress should be filled the same way juries are: your number comes up, and unless you have a compelling excuse, you live in DC for two weeks, making law during the day and getting sequestered in a mediocre hotel at night. You get paid $30 per diem.

    There's no way this could be worse than the current system.

  • sarcasmic||

    That's pretty much how it was for the first century of the republic.

  • Bacon-Magic glib reasonoid||

    Citizen X ^^^^^^^^^^ this ^^^^^^^^^^^^^

  • Tionico||

    Term limits is a feeeeeelz idea that gets the stupid, lazy, ininformed voters off the hook. "Oh, so we sent another dirtbag to Congress for four/six years. On well they'll be gone before too long cuz we have term limits in place now. Nothing to worry bout uh tall.

    Term limiting has a serious downside, too.. on the rare occasions we DO manage to get a conscientous elected REPRESENTATIVE (in the true sense of the word and intent) in office, it hurts so badly to see him have to pack up and leave so soon. Keep THEM guys around for a few terms.

  • Calidissident||

    Ryan would have never let the USA RIGHTS Act come to a vote if it actually had the numbers to pass. I do appreciate that we at least get to see where everyone stands (of course, I wouldn't be surprised if a few of the people who voted with Amash would not have done so if it actually had a chance of passing. Same with voting against the reauthorization).

  • Calidissident||

    I don't have much faith in the Senate stopping this. Paul and presumably Lee will be on board with the filibuster, but I'm not sure if they'll get any other support from fellow Rs. And I expect a significant chunk of Democrats to defect and vote for it. IIRC the bill will need 11 Democrats to vote to end the filibuster if Paul and Lee are the only Rs that vote against it.

    And I have zero faith in Trump vetoing anything. He will sign whatever this Congress puts on his desk.

  • Citizen X - #6||

    Make America Grate Again

  • Unlabelable MJGreen||

    I hope so, Wyden. I don't know how long Paul can remain standing.

    This fucking thing SUCKS.

  • JuanQPublic||

    "We'll do it LIVE!"

  • Cynical Asshole||

    Several ranking Democrats openly supported increasing the powers of a surveillance state, even under a president they loathe.

    It's not the power they fear, but that it might be wielded by the "wrong person."

    "No president should have this power. Yet, members of Congress just voted to hand it to an administration that has labeled individuals as threats based merely on their religion, nationality, or viewpoints.

    Wait, I thought Obama was no longer in office?

  • Rhywun||

    It's not the power they fear, but that it might be wielded by the "wrong person."

    You can be sure they're counting on the right person wielding it soon.

  • Scott S.||

    This is one of the cases where the ACLU was quite vocal about this when Obama was president, too.

  • BigT||

    ACLU, broken clock, blind squirrel.

  • BYODB||

    This one wasn't even hard to predict. We all knew this was going to happen.


    The police state was put in place well over a decade ago, in full sight of the public and with their approval, so why would anyone thing that trajectory has changed?

  • m.EK||

    According to the 4th amendment the federal government can NOT do what they do with the FISA court,,, LEGALLY! How is this even a public issue?

    I am confused that We The People think they have to have legislation to curb the federal government. I'm also confused that people think that legislation can alter the Constitution in any manner or form.

    It takes a SUCCESSFUL AMENDMENT PROCESS to alter the Constitution in any manner or form. To simply legislate and then act without the Amendment process should be considered an act of TREASON! How can it be anything else?

  • Tionico||

    at the very ;east, perjury: swearing an oath then failing to keep it. It can rise to felony level, thus precluding the convicted ever holding public office again.

  • Enemy of the State||

    Fuck you and your rights. We have dopers and towell heads to catch...

  • vek||

    This was to be expected. I guess the plus side is there has now been at least one vote in the last several years where the Democrats were on the right side of things! It seems like when I was a kid there were more of those, but not so much anymore.

    On a side note all of the people who voted for this should probably be tried for treason, and after being found guilty, they should be hung. I believe that is still the on the books punishment for high treason.

  • Chodorov's Ghost||

    I miss the good old days, when members of Congress used to thrash each other with canes. It produced results, and things got done.

  • Michael Cook||

    Next week should produce an epiphany on how FISA warrants can be blatantly employed as a political tool: to wit the serial unmasking of president elect Trump's team members and Republican allies by an obviously hostile Obama administration.

    Further, investigations into these unmaskings will reveal (1) that the FISA warrant (s?) obtained were substantially based on the Christopher Green dossier, which in turn was clearly a product of the Hillary Clinton campaign opposition research effort, (2) that the unmasking was not merely of identities of to whom Russians were chatting, but significant elements of the spied-upon conversations was leaking out, (3)the content of such intercepted communications quickly made its way to political operatives in the White House and to the Hillary campaign, and (4) such revealed intelligence data in the hands of the Mueller investigation has resulted in vigorous prosecution of people like Paul Manafort for financial dealings long preceding the 2016 campaign, but has produced no real evidence indicating collusion with Russia.

    Right-wing talk radio is on fire with talk of these FISA constituting a scandal and a crisis epically greater than the third-rate burglary and bungled cover up of Watergate. The abuse of FISA by the Obama administration and elements within the FBI appears as the most flagrant and extreme exemplar of sheer unlawfulness in our times.

  • prediksifajar||

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