President Trump Slams Surveillance State
On Thursday, January 11th, 2018, President Trump expressed mixed feelings about the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA).
Later in the day, Congress voted to extend Section 702 of FISA for another six years, preventing it from expiring on January 19th. That specific provision allows for the federal government to monitor and listen to foreigners through American communications companies such as Verizon, Google and T-Mobile without their consent.
Similar provisions have been in place for nearly a decade now under the auspices of preventing terrorism, such as the USA PATRIOT Act. The National Security Agency whistleblower Edward Snowden revealed further how the government can track every American’s internet usage in the interests of so-called national security.
In the morning, President Trump tweeted what was ( at least highly suggestive of) his disapproval of the bill. He questioned if it had been used against his own administration by his political opposition to spy on him or collect evidence against him for the pending “Russian Collusion” investigation. He called FISA “controversial,” and blamed it alongside the “discredited and phony” dossier for unconstitutionally monitoring him.
Later that morning, he posted another tweet, but this time explicitly supporting the bill. He clarified that all he wanted was to fix the “unmasking process,” but it was still important to keep monitoring “foreign bad guys on foreign land.” By “unmasking,” he is referring to what CNN describes as “revealing identities of Americans who were communicating with foreign officials under surveillance.”
The White House had already released a statement supporting the bill two days earlier. The statement described the renewal of the bill as “a top priority of the administration.”
The claim that Trump’s campaign was surveilled comes from the fact that a secret court that oversees the usage of FISA surveillance approved the non-consensual monitoring of the former campaign chairman Paul Manafort. Despite being approved to surveil, there is no evidence that privilege was necessarily used, although it is not out of the realm of reason to believe it was used. Still, it sets a dangerous precedent that someone can be monitored by the federal government by a secret court with minimal oversight.
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