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US Officials Praise Renewal of Foreign Surveillance Program


FILE - A tablet computer shows the logo of the United States' National Security Agency (NSA) against the backdrop of code in this multiple-exposure demonstration photo.

U.S. intelligence officials are praising lawmakers for finally reauthorizing a surveillance program that privacy advocates have criticized heavily, saying it fails to protect the rights of ordinary citizens.

The Senate voted 65-34 Thursday to renew Section 702 of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) for six years.

The House voted in favor of renewing the program last week. President Donald Trump is expected to sign the legislation into law Friday.

Section 702 allows U.S. spy agencies to eavesdrop on foreign electronic and digital communications, including those sent through companies like Facebook, Google and Verizon, in order to gather information on foreign targets.

U.S. intelligence officials have long called the program vital, saying it has produced a critical stream of information that has helped the United States avert terror attacks and hunt down and kill Haji Imam, the No. 2 Islamic State terror group commander, in March 2016.

"I am grateful to my former colleagues in the Congress for prioritizing the safety of America and our allies," U.S. Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats said in a statement released after Thursday's vote in the Senate.

In a separate statement, U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions praised the program, calling it "crucial to allowing us to continue to gather intelligence on foreign terrorists overseas and foil potential plots against Americans abroad and at home."

But privacy advocates have repeatedly criticized the program, saying it allows the government to sweep up the data of millions of U.S. citizens.

"Without additional meaningful constraints, Congress is allowing the government to use information collected without a warrant against Americans in domestic court proceedings," Republican Senator Rand Paul of Kentucky and Democratic Senator Ron Wyden of Oregon wrote in a letter to colleagues last week.

The measure passed by the Senate makes only minimal changes to the program, though it does require the FBI to obtain a warrant to view content unrelated to national security.