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House to try again on surveillance program reauthorization

Adding warrant requirement has been a continuous focal point in debate over Section 702

Rep. Andy Biggs, a key lawmaker in the Section 702 debate, says the FBI has abused Section 702 “hundreds of thousands of times to spy on American citizens.”
Rep. Andy Biggs, a key lawmaker in the Section 702 debate, says the FBI has abused Section 702 “hundreds of thousands of times to spy on American citizens.” (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call file photo)

House Republicans unveiled a new version of legislation Monday to reauthorize a key surveillance authority, setting up another potential showdown over what privacy protections should be added to the program.

The House Rules Committee posted the draft bill to reauthorize Section 702 of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act and plans to consider it Wednesday. Without congressional action, Section 702 is set to expire in April.

The surveillance authority allows the U.S. government to collect digital communications of foreigners located outside the country. But the program also sweeps up the communications of Americans and allows the FBI to search through data without a warrant using information such as an email address.

The new bill posted by the House Rules Committee does not include a Section 702 warrant requirement for the FBI when it comes to information on Americans, an issue that divided the House in December as lawmakers did not take a floor vote on a longer-term reauthorization.

Adding a warrant requirement has been a continuous focal point in the debate over Section 702, with members of the House Judiciary Committee pushing for the idea and the Biden administration coming out in opposition to it.

Rep. Andy Biggs, R-Ariz., a key lawmaker in the Section 702 debate, said in a social media post that it will “be a big week for FISA reform,” arguing the FBI has abused Section 702 “hundreds of thousands of times to spy on American citizens.”

“Our intel community must have a warrant for all U.S. person searches,” Biggs said. “I’ll keep you posted.”

Members of the House Judiciary Committee and the House Intelligence Committee have clashed over how to reauthorize the surveillance authority.

Previously, the Judiciary Committee had advanced a bipartisan bill that would put in place a robust warrant requirement regarding information on Americans, with certain exceptions.

And the Intelligence Committee had advanced its own bipartisan bill that would prohibit, with exceptions, the FBI from conducting searches under Section 702 for information solely designed to find evidence of criminal activity.

The new draft bill more closely resembles the previous Intelligence panel legislation.

Intelligence-focused lawmakers have said Section 702 changes are needed. But those lawmakers have also defended FISA, describing the law as a critical tool in protecting national security.

Privacy hawks say the searches for information on Americans are a form of warrantless surveillance and argue the searches violate the Fourth Amendment. Privacy advocates have pointed to documented FBI misuses of Section 702 and the broader Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act.

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