The US Senate Intelligence Committee has reinstated a law that allows the National Security Agency to collect the communications of foreigners.
In a 12-3 vote on Tuesday, the committee passed the mostly unchanged version of the so-called Section 702, which according to critics, will enable spy agencies to also scoop up and share Americans’ private communications.
The Senate, however, remains divided on the issue, with the House of Representatives making some proposals for harsher restrictions on surveillance, while some lawmakers seek provisions they claim will protect Americans’ communications in a better way.
“This bill reauthorizes our nation’s most valuable intelligence collection authorities and ensures that the men and women of the intelligence committee and our law enforcement agencies have the tools and authorities they need to keep us safe,” said Chairman Richard Burr.
“It is a good compromise bill that addresses privacy and civil liberties concerns while maintaining a critical tool essential for our intelligence and law enforcement professionals to protect the nation,” said Mark Warner of Virginia, the ranking Democrat on the committee.
The bill would extend the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act for another eight years after approval by Congress.
Rights groups, like the American Civil Liberties Union, have blasted the motion as a breach of privacy, saying it does not contain enough safeguards.
“The Senate Intelligence Committee’s bill does nothing to improve the law and in some respects might even make it worse,” said Elizabeth Goitein, co-director of the Liberty and National Security Program at the Brennan Center for Justice. “This is not reform. This is window-dressing.”
According to documents released by Edward Snowden, a former NSA contractor, the NSA has been collecting the phone records of millions of Americans and foreign nationals as well as political leaders from around the world.
Snowden’s release of NSA files has been called the most significant leak in US history.