A program that allows for U.S. spy agencies to collect information on foreigners outside the country was reauthorized by both chambers of Congress this month.
The Senate voted 65 to 34 to approve the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act section 702 program Thursday. The House renewed the controversial program – that lets the U.S. spy on foreign targets abroad – with a 256 to 164 vote earlier this month.
The measure now heads to President Trump to be signed.
Here’s a look at Section 702 – controversial because Americans’ information can oftentimes be swept up in this collection – and what privacy advocates have to say about it.
What is FISA Section 702?
Section 702 of FISA allows intelligence officials to oversee communications of foreigners outside the U.S. without a warrant. It’s an amendment added to FISA in 2008.
The House Intelligence Committee called Section 702 a “critical authority” that allows the U.S. to intercept “foreign terrorist threats.”
Section 702 cannot be used to target Americans or people in the U.S., the committee said. However, the FISA Amendments Act allows the government to collect the data from American firms, such as Google or Microsoft, according to the nonprofit Center for Democracy & Technology.
Supporters of Section 702 , including intelligence agencies and House Republican leadership, argued that access to the database is essential to keeping Americans safe.
What is so controversial about Section 702?
Critics of Section 702 say that the law is so broad that Americans’ communications can become easily swept up in this data collection.
The FISA Act is supposed to be used to “spy on foreigners on foreign lands,” Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., told Fox News.
“But millions of Americans are accidentally or incidentally collected in this database, and we don’t want people just willy-nilly looking into this database without a warrant.”
“Millions of Americans are accidentally or incidentally collected in this database, and we don’t want people just willy-nilly looking into this database without a warrant.”
Neema Singh Guliani, a legislative counsel for the American Civil Liberties Union, said there are two major misconceptions with Section 702: that the program only involves people overseas and that it’s about foreign terrorists.
Like Paul, she also criticized the government’s access to Americans’ information collected through Section 702.
“If you’re going to search through Section 702 data, you ought to get a warrant because that’s the standard that would apply if you wanted that data to begin with,” she told Fox News.
What has the administration said?
Ahead of the House vote, President Trump suggested in a tweet that the surveillance program could have been used to “badly surveil” and “abuse” his own presidential campaign.
“This is the act that may have been used, with the help of the discredited and phony Dossier, to so badly surveil and abuse the Trump Campaign by the previous administration and others?” Trump tweeted.
His tweet seemingly stood in opposition to a previous White House statement opposing any changes to the program, and he published a second tweet soon after.
“With that being said, I have personally directed the fix to the unmasking process since taking office and today’s vote is about foreign surveillance of foreign bad guys on foreign land. We need it! Get smart!”
The Associated Press contributed to this report.