Biden Approves Reinstatement of Controversial FISA Program

( – President Biden has officially reauthorized a widely debated intelligence gathering program by signing the legislation on Saturday, April 20th. Section 702 of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) had been due to expire, but its renewal was given bipartisan approval in the Senate just hours before the deadline of midnight on Saturday.

The Senate voted in favor, 60-34, to renew the part of FISA that allows federal agencies to examine communications made by foreign nationals, despite its opponents’ claims that it contravenes the American constitutional right to privacy as often those communications involve American citizens as well as foreign individuals.

Section 702, first enacted in 2008, must be renewed every two years, although originally it was set to expire every five years instead. It allows federal agencies to spy on communications of non-Americans outside of the American borders without requiring a warrant. Some lawmakers had pushed to include an amendment in the latest iteration of the bill that would require said governmental agencies to seek a warrant before they could gather and mine such data, but the amendment failed.

Proponents of FISA argued that seeking a warrant would cause delays and minimize the data that intelligence agencies such as the FBI could gather, and this could result in missed opportunities to prevent terror attacks.

The bill has been subject to both bipartisan support and disapproval, with some Republicans such as Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL), arguing that FISA was vital for U.S. security both domestically and for its troops abroad. Others agreed with former Republican president, Donald Trump, who vehemently opposed the legislation, saying that it contradicted the U.S. Constitution.

The internal disagreement within the GOP resulted in the party’s House Speaker Mike Johnson (R-LA) calling a closed-door meeting early in April in which he is reported to have asked his colleagues to stop opposing the bill, and instead put their efforts into the proposed amendments to the bill, including forcing agencies to gain warrants before mining data. The amendments failed in a close vote and so were not included in the legislation’s final passage.

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