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Senate passes 77-day FISA surveillance stopgap

House will need to clear the stopgap bill

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell announced a deal for a 77-day extension of expired surveillance measures.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell announced a deal for a 77-day extension of expired surveillance measures. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call file photo)

Senators passed Monday a 77-day extension of surveillance authorities that lapsed over the weekend.

The passage of a bill by voice vote that would revive and extend surveillance powers — including those under the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act — until the end of May gives lawmakers breathing room to debate surveillance and privacy issues after the immediate threat of the COVID-19 pandemic has subsided.

The House will need to act on the extension measure; it could do so during a pro forma session.

As part of the agreement to pass the extension, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., announced an agreement for a limited debate on three amendments, at a time to be determined later, on House-passed intelligence surveillance overhaul legislation.

The extension bill revives the availability of Section 215 orders that allow for the collection of business and other records of individuals through the FISA court and a roving wiretap provision that permits the government to get orders targeting people who frequently change phone lines or use burner devices to avoid traditional wiretaps on individual lines.

The bill also brings back “Lone Wolf ” authorities, which allow the FISA court to issue targeted surveillance on suspected terrorists who operate outside of formal networks.

The Senate had been expected to vote on a motion from McConnell to limit debate on calling up the broader House-passed measure on Monday, until the agreement was reached.

“Terrorist organizations still search constantly for opportunities to strike on American soil. Hostile foreign intelligence services, whether Chinese, Russian, or Iranian, still seek to conduct operations within our borders, to recruit assets and agents among our population, ” McConnell said earlier in the day on the Senate floor.

“These threats will not wait around if the United States delays restocking our toolbox. And so the Senate should not wait to act, ” McConnell said. “I sincerely hope that even our colleagues who may wish to vote against the House bill will not make us prolong this brief lapse in authorities, and that we will be able to get these tools back online this week.”

The short-term extension is in effect a 75-day measure, since it runs retroactively to before the powers expired over the weekend, a senior Senate GOP aide said Monday.

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