- The Washington Times - Friday, January 19, 2018

President Trump on Friday signed into law a six-year extension of the government’s chief foreign intelligence collection powers, saying the updated version protects Americans’ rights while still allowing the FBI to go through their communications in key national security cases.

Mr. Trump said he was disappointed the extension only lasts six years, saying he would have preferred permanent renewal of Section 702 of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act. But he said an extension was better than letting the program lapse.

“We cannot let our guard down in the face of foreign threats to our safety, our freedom, and our way of life,” the president said in a statement.

Section 702 authorizes the government to collect phone calls, emails and other communications of foreign targets overseas. But Americans’ data can be scooped up in the dragnet if they are communicating with the targets. Under the new law, if the government has an official investigation into an American, it cannot go through his or her 702 data without a warrant.

A coalition of conservatives and liberals warned that the FBI could circumvent that requirement by delaying the opening of an investigation. They pushed for a more robust warrant requirement, but failed in showdown votes in both the House and Senate.

The intelligence community has called Section 702 one of the most important tools in the fight against terrorists and had pushed for a permanent renewal with no changes.

Mr. Trump appeared to step on that message last week, just ahead of the House vote, when he took to Twitter to complain that FISA had been used by the Obama administration to snoop on his campaign and “unmask” communications of one of his top aides.

On Friday, the president tried to defend his decision to approve the new bill.

“Just signed 702 Bill to reauthorize foreign intelligence collection. This is NOT the same FISA law that was so wrongly abused during the election,” the president tweeted after signing the bill Congress passed earlier this week, reauthorizing the program for six years ahead of its midnight deadline.

The law he signed is, in fact, the same FISA law — though Section 702 is not the part dealing with unmasking.

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