Biden signs bill extending federal warrantless surveillance program

President Biden signed a bill Saturday extending the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act’s (FISA) warrantless surveillance program another two years.

The Senate passed the reauthorization bill early Saturday, after hours of intense debate, narrowly avoiding a key national intelligence gathering capability going dark.

Senators voted 60-34 to send the bill to Biden’s desk shortly after the midnight deadline. The program looked as if it was headed for a lapse until Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) announced a breakthrough on the Senate floor.

The legislation extends the government’s ability to spy on foreigners located abroad, a process that also sweeps up communications of Americans they are in contact with.

The bill, called the Reforming Intelligence and Securing America Act, enacts numerous reforms to FISA Section 702, even as it falls short of expectations from privacy hawks.

Following the vote, the White House issued a statement applauding Congress for passing what they called “one of the United States’ most vital intelligence collection tools.”

“The Reforming Intelligence and Securing America Act will retain essential authority to understand and protect against a wide range of dangerous threats to Americans while enhancing safeguards for privacy and civil liberties through the most robust set of reforms ever included in legislation to reauthorize Section 702,” National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan said in the statement following the vote.

Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas) said Friday that the bill is not a “clean reauthorization” of the program, but a reform bill that would correct “many of the problems that we’ve experienced with Section 702.”

Still, the debate over the legislation laid bare the deep divisions within both parties over a 15-year-old program that proponents hail as vital to national security and critics argue is a serious infringement on Americans’ right to privacy.

The extension was approved by the House after a band of 19 GOP members tanked a procedural vote to advance debate – a move that did not score them any of their policy demands.

Alexander Bolton contributed reporting.

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