Senate Passes Controversial FISA Renewal

In a late-night vote that extended beyond midnight, the U.S. Senate passed a controversial renewal of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) Section 702 early Saturday morning, allowing the government to conduct warrantless surveillance of foreign nationals outside the United States. Despite substantial bipartisan resistance, the measure — which also incidentally collects data on U.S. citizens — was approved with a vote of 60-34. The bill has been sent to Joe Biden, who is expected to sign it into law immediately.

Constitutional experts and many lawmakers argue that the bill infringes on the Fourth Amendment by allowing the government to access Americans’ communications without a warrant, which the amendment expressly requires.

Senators from both parties expressed significant concerns about the implications for American citizens’ privacy. “If the government wants to spy on my private communications or the private communications of any American, they should be required to get approval from a judge, just as our Founding Fathers intended in writing the Constitution,” argued Sen. Dick Durbin (D-IL), who pushed for amendments that would require such warrants.

In a speech on the Senate floor last week, Sen. Ron Wyden (D-OR) said: “The legislation coming from the House gives the government unchecked authority to order millions of Americans to spy on behalf of the government. It says that the government can force cooperation from, ‘‘any other service provider who has access to equipment that is being or may be used to transmit or store wire or electronic communications.'”

Despite these concerns, the bill passed without any proposed amendments, which sought to protect civil liberties. This included amendments from Sens. Rand Paul (R-KY), Mike Lee (R-UT), and others, all of which failed to secure enough votes to be included in the final legislation. Paul expressed his bitter disappointment in a series of posts on X, formerly known as Twitter late Friday evening.

Paul wrote: “Tonight the Senate was given the chance to vote on amendments to help fix a slew of unconstitutional provisions to RISAA, the fake FISA reform bill and truly reform other government spying practices as well. We could have ensured both constitutional rights and national security were protected. Yet again the Senate was asked to consider the question: can liberty be exchanged for security? And sadly the majority of Senators said yes it can.”

The bill’s passage was not without its drama. As the midnight deadline loomed, negotiations and compromises were hastily made to push through the reauthorization. This included a last-minute agreement that allowed some senators to present their amendments. However, none succeeded in altering the bill.