What is FISA, and how did Minnesota's U.S. reps vote on its reauthorization?

The U.S. reps weren't too pleased about the FISA extension – here's why.
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What happened?

The House of Representatives voted to reauthorize Section 702 of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, known as FISA, for a further six years.

The measure passed by a vote of 256-164.

What is FISA?

FISA was originally signed in 1978, with Newsweek reporting it provided oversight of the government's surveillance programs of foreign entities while still guaranteeing intelligence agencies the secrecy they need to be effective.

The act has been amended on several occasions since then, notably after the Sept. 11 attacks when the USA Patriot Act was incorporated, adding terrorist groups to its classification of foreign agents and entities.

But the vote on Thursday relates to a 2008 amendment that introduced Section 702.

What is Section 702 and why is it controversial?

Section 702 allows the Department of Justice and the Office of the Director of National Intelligence to collaborate in targeting foreign citizens outside of the U.S.

It permits the government, without a warrant, to collect from firms like Google and AT&T emails and other communications of foreigners outside the U.S., even when they're talking to Americans, the New York Times reports. 

But it has proved hugely controversial since the 2013 leak by NSA analyst Edward Snowden, who revealed the NSA had been secretly collecting logs of Americans' domestic phone calls – not just international ones.

This was ruled illegal in 2015 and shut down.

Section 702 was also referenced to legally justify the creation of the NSA's PRISM program, also revealed in the Snowden leaks, which the Washington Post says was used to gain warrantless access to data held by nine Internet services, including Microsoft, Facebook, Yahoo and Google.

Both caused uproar among privacy advocates, aghast that it gave the NSA access to the data of private citizens that had no clear connection to crime, espionage or terrorism.

The government maintains now that no domestic citizens can be targeted without a court order under Section 702, Newsweek notes.

The extension passed despite a yearslong effort by some Congressional members to tag on additional privacy protection measures, which the New York Times reports failed to pass in a House vote Thursday morning.

So Minnesota lawmakers don't like it?

Apparently not, given that five of our eight U.S. House representatives voted against the reauthorization, from both sides of the aisle.

GOP Reps. Tom Emmer and Jason Lewis voted against the reauthorization, joining Democratic Reps. Keith Ellison, Betty McCollum and Tim Walz.

Republican Erik Paulsen and Democrat Colin Peterson voted in favor of the reauthorization, while Democrat Rick Nolan did not vote.

In a statement, Lewis (CD2) said: "Innocent, law-abiding American citizens are entitled to – and should demand – their full rights and protections under the constitution.

"I voted for much-needed reforms to FISA today, but unfortunately, despite the much-publicized civil liberties abuses such as warrantless wiretapping we've seen in the news, these reforms did not command the support of the majority in the House.

"I could not in good conscience support the threats to privacy posed by a blanket extension of Section 702's surveillance without meaningful reforms."

The extension could have a tougher time passing the Senate, however, where there is only a 51-49 majority in favor of the Republicans, though it appears that partisanship is playing less of a role when it comes to FISA.

GOP senator and libertarian Rand Paul is definitely opposed to the reauthorization, saying he plans to filibuster the measure.

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