The Fourth Amendment is Not for Sale Act and the battle against government spying

The FANFSA, passed with a 219-199 vote, garnered support from both sides of the aisle, with 96 Democrats and 123 Republicans backing the bill.

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The U.S. House of Representatives recently passed a significant piece of legislation, the Fourth Amendment Is Not For Sale Act (FANFSA), aimed at strengthening privacy protections for Americans. This move, however, coincides with ongoing debates around expanding government surveillance capabilities under Section 702 of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA), revealing a stark contradiction in the nation’s approach to privacy and civil liberties.

The FANFSA, passed with a 219-199 vote, garnered support from both sides of the aisle, with 96 Democrats and 123 Republicans backing the bill. Authored by Rep. Warren Davidson (R-Ohio), the act seeks to close loopholes that have allowed law enforcement and intelligence agencies to purchase personal data from third-party brokers without a warrant, thereby bypassing constitutional protections against unreasonable searches and seizures.

Jenna Ruddock, policy counsel at Free Press Action, applauded the bipartisan passage of the bill, noting, “The privacy violations that flow from law enforcement entities circumventing the Fourth Amendment undermine civil liberties, free expression, and our ability to control what happens to our data.”

While FANFSA aims to tighten privacy protections, another legislative effort, the Reforming Intelligence and Securing America Act (RISAA), is moving through Congress with provisions that could potentially expand the government’s surveillance powers. RISAA, which also addresses the reauthorization of Section 702, allows for warrantless surveillance of noncitizens abroad but has been criticized for inadvertently capturing data on American citizens.

A controversial amendment included in RISAA would compel a broad range of individuals and businesses, from tech companies to local gyms, to cooperate with government surveillance activities. This amendment was passed despite objections and could significantly increase the scope of data accessible to intelligence agencies without a warrant.

Jeramie Scott, from the Electronic Privacy Information Center, underscored the importance of the House’s action on FANFSA, stating, “The passage of the Fourth Amendment Is Not For Sale underscores the extent to which reining in abusive warrantless surveillance is a bipartisan issue.”

As both FANFSA and RISAA move to the Senate, the contrast between the two approaches to privacy and surveillance becomes more pronounced. Kia Hamadanchy, senior policy counsel at ACLU, emphasized the critical nature of the Senate’s upcoming decisions: “We hope this vote puts a fire under the Senate to protect their constituents and rein in the government’s warrantless surveillance of Americans, once and for all.”

Senator Ron Wyden (D-Ore.), a long-time privacy advocate and critic of the expanding surveillance powers under Section 702, has been vocal about the risks posed by such measures. During a Senate floor speech, Wyden highlighted the potential for abuse under the expanded surveillance capabilities: “If you have access to any communications, the government can force you to help it spy. This means anyone with access to a server, a wire, a cable box, a Wi-Fi router, a phone, or a computer.”

The implications of these legislative actions are profound, especially for vulnerable populations, including children and families who may be unaware that their everyday activities are subject to surveillance. The expansion of Section 702 could lead to increased monitoring of innocent Americans, with little recourse for those swept up by broad data collections.

The Senate is poised to make decisions that will determine the balance between safeguarding national security and protecting individual privacy rights. The outcomes of these legislative efforts will define the extent of government surveillance powers and the robustness of privacy protections in the digital era.

“If you’re worried about having a president who lives to target vulnerable Americans, you ought to find this bill terrifying,” Senator Wyden commented.

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