he House of Representatives today voted to reauthorize an important national security law that allows intelligence officials to more quickly and effectively monitor the communications of foreign terrorists and spies operating overseas. H.R. 5949 extends the FISA Amendments Act of 2008 for five years. The bill passed by a vote of 301-118.
Chairman Lamar Smith (R-Texas) managed the debate on the House floor and urged his colleagues to reauthorize the FISA Amendments Act to keep America safe.
Chairman Smith: "Our national security agencies operate around the clock to protect America from unfriendly foreign nations, terrorist groups and spies. But in order to keep America safe, we must be able to conduct surveillance of foreign terrorists and intelligence organizations. The information we gather ensures that we can stop terrorists before they are able to carry out attacks against our infrastructure or innocent Americans.
"H.R. 5949 enables the intelligence community to conduct surveillance on foreign targets overseas, while still protecting the civil liberties of U.S. citizens at home and abroad. The House has done the right thing and extended these important tools before they expire. I urge my colleagues in the Senate to act now to ensure that our intelligence capabilities will not be dismantled and our nation not put in danger."
Background: In 1978, Congress enacted the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) to provide procedures for the domestic collection of foreign intelligence. The law established the FISA court system and required court approval for information collected domestically. It was never intended to apply to non-U.S. persons living or operating in foreign countries.
But technological advances over the last 40 years changed how overseas communications are transmitted. These advances led to changes in how FISA was interpreted. Suddenly the law was being applied to foreign targets located outside the U.S., which was never the intent. In 2006, then-Director of National Intelligence Mike McConnell stated that the Intelligence Community was not collecting approximately two-thirds of the foreign intelligence information that it had collected prior to the change in the interpretation of the law.
In 2008, Congress enacted the FISA Amendments Act to establish procedures for gathering intelligence on foreign targets (non-U.S. citizens) located outside the U.S. The law clarified that an individual court order is not needed to conduct surveillance on a foreign target outside the U.S. The FISA Amendments Act also expanded civil liberties protections for Americans living or traveling abroad. The Act requires an individual FISA court order for any surveillance on a U.S. citizen overseas. And it requires annual certification by the FISA-court for all foreign surveillance under FISA.