U.S. House Votes to Authorize Warrantless Domestic Spying on Americans

January 11, 2018

Today, the U.S. House of Representatives voted to reauthorize Section 702 of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA), with changes that would for the first time endorse warrantless searches of millions of Americans’ online and phone communications. An amendment by Rep. Justin Amash (R-MI) that would have prohibited such warrantless searches was defeated. Neither vote was along strictly partisan lines, as civil liberties advocates on both the right and left supported the Amash amendment and opposed the bill that ultimately passed.

The bill must now be voted on by the U.S. Senate before reaching Pres. Trump’s desk.

“The House just voted to turn the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act into a tool for domestic spying on Americans,” said Elizabeth Goitein, co-director of the Brennan Center’s Liberty & National Security Program, who testified before Congress on the issue last year. “The government obtains this data without a warrant and in massive amounts, based on a promise that it is NOT trying to access Americans’ communications. But 256 members of the House think FBI agents should have warrantless access to Americans’ calls and e-mails, even in investigations that have literally nothing to do with national security. The Senate should reject this assault on Americans’ constitutional protections and take up legislation, like the USA Rights Act, that will end warrantless searches instead of endorsing them.”

The final bill passed by a vote of 256-164, while Rep. Amash’s amendment was defeated 183-233. This morning, Pres. Trump tweeted out concerns about the bill, although the White House has publicly backed its passage.

Read an opinion piece by Goitein in the San Francisco Chronicle urging House Minority Leader Rep. Pelosi (D-CA) to mobilize her caucus against the bill. Pelosi ultimately backed the bill.

Visit the Brennan Center’s resource page on Section 702 Surveillance.

For more information or to schedule an interview, contact Naren Daniel at (646) 292-8381 or naren.daniel@nyu.edu.