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Senate reauthorizes surveillance act without bipartisan amendment by Daines, Tester

U.S. Sens. Jon Tester and Steve Daines

Despite the bipartisan efforts of Montana’s two U.S. senators and others in Congress, the Senate on Thursday reauthorized the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act.

Sens. Jon Tester and Steve Daines joined more than 40 other lawmakers representing both parties in both chambers of Congress last week to push for reforms they believe are needed to protect the communications of U.S. citizens from being misused by the federal government.

Still, the Senate voted 65-43 to reauthorize Section 702 of the FISA program, which allows intelligence agencies to spy on foreign targets.

“Today, the U.S. Senate passed a flawed bill that encroaches on Americans’ privacy and civil liberties,” Daines said in a statement after the vote. “Montanans should be able to talk on the phone and send messages to their friends and loved ones without fearing the government will collect data on their private conversations.”

The House passed the same measure last week.

Both Montana senators also cosponsored the USA Rights Act, which they said would reform the government surveillance programs in a way that balances privacy and national security.

The amendment failed, though Tester said it would have defended Montanans from “increasing government intrusion” while protecting freedoms and constitutional rights. Daines offered a similar view of the failed amendment, saying the nation needed strong oversight and strong reforms to prevent FISA from being misused.

But Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., disagreed, saying current regulations don’t permit the targeting of U.S. citizens.

“Let’s be very clear about what Section 702 does: It enables our intelligence community to collect communications from foreign terrorists, on foreign soil, who threaten America and our allies,” McConnell said in a statement. “Make no mistake, Section 702 does not allow the targeting of American citizens. Nor does it permit the targeting of anyone – no matter their nationality – who is known to be located here in the U.S.”