The Senate sought to strengthen protections for those targeted by government surveillance with the passage of a bill that faces an uncertain outlook, NPR reports. Senators voted 80-16 on Thursday to reauthorize lapsed provisions of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) and also some aspects of how it can be used by the Justice Department. Because their version differs from the one they received from the House, the final result must be negotiated before it goes to President Donald Trump.
Trump has been a longstanding critic of FISA because of what he calls the way it was abused during the Russia investigation. The Justice Department said the bill “would unacceptably degrade our ability to conduct surveillance of terrorists, spies and other national security threats.” Authorities’ ability to use elements including the so-called “business records,” “lone wolf” and “roving wiretap” provisions in counterterrorism or espionage investigations has expired until Congress passes a new law. Senators added reforms inspired by revelations about problems discovered with the use of FISA during the Russia investigation. One increases the penalties that a federal official could suffer for providing false information to the secret court that oversees surveillance. Another encourages that court to appoint third-party lawyers to take part in the proceedings to give an independent perspective apart from the government’s. Now, when the Justice Department asks the secret court to collect a target’s communication, there is no advocate for the target.