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World

AFP
January 12, 2018

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US House passes crucial spying law

WASHINGTON: The US House of Representatives passed a crucial surveillance law Thursday that reinforced the ability of the country’s spy agencies to intercept and make use of Americans’ private communications.

The national security establishment saw the reauthorization of the expiring Section 702 of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act as essential, warning that they would not be able to detect terror plots without it.

But rights groups and libertarian-leaning politicians of both the Democratic and Republican parties saw the bill’s passage as a blow, especially since former National Security Agency contractor Edward Snowden revealed in 2013 that the NSA was using it to vacuum up massive amounts of data on Americans.

Many had hoped the renewal would strengthen protections against invasive electronic wiretapping and social media monitoring of Americans by the NSA, the country’s powerful electronic espionage body, and the Federal Bureau of Investigation.

The House’s vote for the bill came after President Trump himself sent mixed messages of his own views, tweeting Thursday morning his opposition only to make an abrupt U-turn.

In an initial tweet he said the section 702 provision had been used by the Obama administration to “so badly surveil and abuse the Trump campaign,” suggesting he was opposed to the bill.

More than an hour later, he reversed himself, saying “today’s vote is about foreign surveillance of foreign bad guys on foreign land. We need it!”While nearly all lawmakers agree that 702 is an essential tool for US intelligence to safeguard national security, the bill passed the House by 256-164, showing the level of opposition to the powers it gives US spies and law enforcement. The no votes included 45 Republicans.

“The House-passed bill does absolutely nothing to defend the vast majority of law-abiding Americans from warrantless searches, and in many ways it expands the federal government’s ability to spy on Americans. A concerted campaign of fear-mongering and misinformation pushed this flawed bill over the line,” said Senator Ron Wyden, one of the most vocal critics of the law.

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