Liberals’ trepidation about the President of the United States were shelved in the Senate on Thursday, as 21 Democrats voted to renew powerful surveillance powers for the executive branch.
In a 65-34 vote, the Senate concurred with a House bill to extend Section 702 of the Foreign Surveillance Intelligence Act for six years with minimal reforms. The legislation now goes to President Trump’s desk for signature.
The spying authority gained notoriety following the disclosures of former NSA contractor Edward Snowden in 2013. Section 702 is geared toward foreign intelligence collection, but often results in the incidental collection of Americans communications, too. The scooped up data is stored in agency databases that can be queried later without a warrant.
Intelligence community officials have rebuffed repeated request from lawmakers to disclose just how many Americans have their communications incidentally vacuumed up by spy agency.
Efforts in both the House and Senate to enact warrant requirements on 702 database searches failed, with dozens of Democrats joining Republicans to defeat reform amendments.
“This is a critical tool,” Sen. Mark Warner (D-Va.), said ahead of Thursday’s vote. “I do not believe it has been abused or will be abused,” he went on to claim.
Privacy advocates argue that the potential for abuse is already built into the program. Earlier this week, Edward Snowden used his Twitter account to urge individuals to contact their Senators and urge them to vote against 702 reauthorization.
“The Senate is rubber-stamping a bill granting the White House greater authority spy on immigrants, journalists, dissidents, and you,” the whistleblower said.
Those concerns were heard by several dissenting Senators.
“The American people deserve better than the legislation before us,” Sen. Martin Heinrich (D-N.M.) said before the vote. “The American people deserve better than warrantless wiretapping.”