OTI Condemns Senate Vote to Prevent Debate on Section 702

Today, with a razor-thin margin of 60-38, the Senate voted to invoke cloture and prevented a public debate on the FISA Amendments Reauthorization Act of 2017 (S. 139). New America’s Open Technology Institute (OTI) and a coalition of dozens of civil rights and civil liberties groups strongly oppose the bill. It provides for no meaningful Section 702 reforms, and it will codify and potentially expand the government’s most concerning practices under Section 702 of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA): warrantless searches of Americans’ incidentally collected communications, known as “backdoor searches;” and collection of communications that are not “to” or “from” a target, but that contain a target’s “selector” (ex. phone number or email), called “abouts” collection.

The bill was drafted by the Senate and House Intelligence Committees in secret, and has received no real public debate. OTI thanks the bipartisan group of members who opposed cloture. Despite their efforts, today’s vote precludes any opportunity for open debate or an amendment process going forward.

The following quote can be attributed to Robyn Greene, Policy Counsel and Government Affairs Lead at New America’s Open Technology Institute:

“Today’s cloture vote guarantees that this controversial bill will never be debated in public in any meaningful way, and that there will be no opportunity to amend it to include actual reforms to Section 702, or, at the very least, to ensure it does no harm. The current bill’s warrant requirement is the definition of fig leaf reform, and its so-called reform of “abouts” collection could actually expand the government’s surveillance authority rather than rein it in. Without substantial amendments, this bill is worse than a clean reauthorization with a sunset.

“Members who vote for this bill later this week will be voting to give the Trump administration and every administration that follows sweeping surveillance authorities without providing any meaningful reforms. This bill is bad medicine and the Senate should reject it and demand the opportunity to vote on a bill that is written to protect Americans’ privacy, rather than the intelligence community’s convenience.”