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US House reauthorizes FISA surveillance law

The US House of Representatives [official website] on Wedneday voted to reauthorize the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Amendments Act of 2008 (FISA) [text, PDF], a highly contested law designed as a national security protection against terrorism and other foreign threats. The law's Reauthorization Act of 2012 [text, PDF] renews 2008 revisions which call for special government programs, such as the National Security Agency (NSA) [official website] warrantless surveillance program [JURIST news archive], to be operated under court supervision. It also allows the government to collect communications from US companies regarding foreigners abroad so long as the foreigner is overseas. Though the issue of warrantless searches of Americans remains controversial, the House voted 300 to 118 to extend the law for an additional five years. The US Senate [official website], meanwhile, will likely not vote on the bill until after November elections.

FISA has been controversial since its inception in 1978 and remains controversial in post-9/11 America. In February, arguments were made that the law too heavily favors the government by creating an impossible evidentiary burden for defendants, and that Congress may have chosen to protect national security interests [JURIST op-eds] over those of criminal defendants without considering the constitution. Most recently, the US Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit [official website] unanimously declared the law constitutional [JURIST report]. The House amendments to FISA in 2008 originally granted retroactive immunity [JURIST report] to telecommunications companies that participated in the NSA warrantless surveillance program.

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