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US House passes controversial surveillance bill to renew spy program

The US Capitol Building is seen in Washington, the US, on August 15, 2023. (File photo by Reuters)

The US House of Representatives has voted in favor of a bill to renew the authority of a controversial surveillance program aimed at monitoring the electronic activities of individuals from other countries.

The bill reauthorizing Section 702 of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) was approved on Friday by the House in a vote of 273-147, moving it to the Senate, where it is anticipated to receive bipartisan support.

The approval was granted following the alteration of the bill’s duration from five years, as initially proposed, to two years, which was requested by certain Republicans.

Section 702 allows US intelligence agencies to conduct warrantless electronic surveillance of foreigners outside the US.

Its sole purpose is to monitor email traffic and other communications of foreign citizens, but American messages may inadvertently be intercepted if they are in communication with the individuals under surveillance.

FISA, which was first created in the aftermath of the September 11, 2001 attacks, has drawn scrutiny from members of both the Democratic and Republican parties, as they contend that it infringes upon the constitutional right to privacy of American citizens.

The program’s failure to be reauthorized has been cautioned against by the White House, intelligence chiefs, and top lawmakers on the House Intelligence Committee due to the potential for catastrophic consequences.

It was recently disclosed that the FBI utilized this authority to investigate Black Lives Matter demonstrators, contributors to congressional campaigns, and American legislators.

In December, a senior White House official stressed the importance of Congress renewing the program, citing the ongoing conflicts in Gaza and Ukraine, as well as the high tensions with China and the persistent threat of cyber-attacks, making it a dangerous time for any kind of “unilateral” disarmament.

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