News Release

Sixty Senators Vote to Cut Off Debate on Giving Trump More Surveillance Powers

The New York Times reports: “The Senate cleared the path on Tuesday for Congress to extend the National Security Agency’s warrantless surveillance program for six years with minimal changes, rejecting bipartisan calls to first vote on amendments that would have imposed significant new privacy protections when the program sweeps up Americans’ emails.

“The vote, 60 to 38, narrowly overcame a procedural obstacle to an up-or-down vote on the surveillance extension bill, showing that there is probably sufficient support in the Senate to give it final approval and send it to President Trump’s desk this week.

“The bill passed last week in the House, which first rejected an amendment that would have required government officials to get warrants in most instances to search for Americans’ messages in the program’s repository. The vote centered on a law known as Section 702 of the FISA Amendments Act. It permits the government to, without a warrant, collect from American companies, like AT&T and Google, the emails, phone calls, text messages and other communications of foreigners abroad who have been targeted for intelligence surveillance — even when they communicate with Americans.”

THOMAS DRAKE, tadrake at earthlink.net, @Thomas_Drake1
An NSA whistleblower, Drake is available for a very limited number of interviews. He said in a statement to the Institute for Public Accuracy that the legislation “actually gives criminal suspects more Fourth Amendment protections than innocent people. …

“I blew the whistle right after 9/11 on the original mass domestic warrantless electronic surveillance program known as STELLARWIND, and its secret subversion of privacy rights protected by the Constitution and paid a very high price for doing so. This reauthorization bill just further codifies and expands the mass surveillance regime under the guise of protecting people by stripping their privacy protections.” See Drake’s interviews at The Real News.

NEEMA SINGH GULIANI, nguliani at aclu.org
Neema Singh Guliani is legislative counsel with the American Civil Liberties Union Washington Legislative Office, focusing on surveillance, privacy, and national security issues. She said today: “Instead of instituting much needed reforms and safeguards, Senators supported legislation that would give spying powers to an administration that has time and time again demonstrated its disregard for civil rights and civil liberties. They did so without even devoting one minute to considering improvement to protect privacy rights.” See ACLU report from 2002 on how the U.S. government spied on Martin Luther King, Jr.

SEAN VITKA, seanvitka at gmail.com, @demandprogress
Vitka is policy counsel for Demand Progress. He said today: “We especially criticize those [19] Democrats who voted for cloture [Tuesday], and in doing so broke with a bipartisan and principled set of senators who support real reform. With [this] vote, these Democrats have ceded tremendous power to the executive branch to engage in mass and warrantless surveillance — a power that history has shown time and again is ripe for abuse. This expanded surveillance power is particularly troubling in the hands of the Trump administration, which has made regular practice of cynical, politically-expedient and dangerous attacks on our country’s most targeted communities.” Here is a list of the 19 Democratic senators who voted to cut off debate on Tuesday — they were dubbed #TheAssistance on social media.

JEFF LANDALE, jefflandale at thexlab.org, @JeffLandale
Landale is with X-Lab. He said today: “Despite the assertions of Democrat and Republican supporters of S. 139 on the Senate floor [Tuesday], an uncountable number of Americans will have their communications swept up under this expansion of the FISA Amendments Act. Whether it is because you use a VPN or Tor, communicate about a target of surveillance, or have your communications collected ‘incidentally’ in some other manner, once this law is passed, the FBI will be able to search communications without a warrant before they have even begun an investigation. Under this law, if Attorney General Jeff Sessions unilaterally decides that Black Lives Matter is a national security threat, the activists affected will not have any Fourth Amendment protections for the information collected under this authority.”