Skip to content

House again tees up reauthorization of powerful spy authority

Lawmakers remain divided over Section 702 of FISA, set to expire April 19

Speaker Mike Johnson, R-La., praised the latest version of a bill to reauthorize Section 702 of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act.
Speaker Mike Johnson, R-La., praised the latest version of a bill to reauthorize Section 702 of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)

The House will once again try to resolve a stalemate over how to reauthorize a powerful spy authority, even as lawmakers this week remain fractured over privacy protections for Americans.

The House Rules Committee is set to meet Tuesday to consider legislation that would reauthorize Section 702 of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, which is set to expire April 19.

The 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.

The bill poised for floor action is largely similar to the bill the panel considered back in February. But that bill never made it to a floor vote amid sharp divisions over how far Congress should go in providing privacy protections.

In a letter addressed to colleagues, Speaker Mike Johnson, R-La., praised the latest version of the reauthorization bill, which does not include a warrant requirement, and wrote that the measure contains dozens of “specific reforms.”

The legislation, he argued, would establish new procedures to curtail the FBI, heighten accountability at the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court and “institute unprecedented transparency across the FISA process.”

“Our responsibility now is simple: maintain the tool but strictly prohibit future abuses,” Johnson wrote.

“If our bill fails, we will be faced with an impossible choice and can expect the Senate to jam us with a clean extension that includes no reforms at all,” he wrote. “That is clearly an unacceptable option.”

Johnson wrote he is planning several meetings to discuss the changes and proposals in more detail, including at the conference’s meeting on Wednesday morning and at an all-member classified briefing scheduled for Wednesday.

The Biden administration has opposed the idea of a warrant requirement. Jake Sullivan, national security adviser, said Tuesday the White House “strongly supports” the measure that’s going before the House Rules Committee.

But many of the most outspoken privacy-focused House members don’t appear to be backing down on their push for one.

“The same people who spied on President Trump’s campaign are now fighting against a warrant requirement in the new FISA bill,” House Judiciary Chairman Jim Jordan, R-Ohio, wrote on social media.

Another member of the panel, Rep. Andy Biggs, R-Ariz., said on social media that requiring the federal government to get a warrant for searching for information on Americans would not threaten national security.

“It will protect Americans’ privacy,” he wrote on social media. “Get a warrant.”

Members of the House Judiciary Committee and the House Intelligence Committee have clashed over where to land in reauthorizing the surveillance authority.

Earlier this Congress, the Judiciary Committee advanced a bipartisan bill that would put in place a warrant requirement regarding information on Americans, with certain exceptions. The Intelligence Committee also 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.

Intelligence Committee Chairman Michael R. Turner, R-Ohio, in a recent CNN interview, said the authority is not a warrantless surveillance program.

“If you’re an American and you’re corresponding with ISIS, yes, if we’re spying on ISIS, your communications are going to be captured,” Turner said. “You would want us to do that. All Americans would want us to try to make certain that we keep ourselves safe.”

Rep. Warren Davidson, a fellow Ohio Republican, punched back at Turner’s comments.

“Not only are they spying on American citizens without a warrant, they are seeking to expand the spying and block bipartisan legislation requiring a warrant to search American citizens’ data,” Davidson wrote in a social media post.

A provision related to information about law enforcement and intelligence agencies purchasing commercially available data about Americans — which was included in the version of the Section 702 reauthorization bill at the House Rules Committee in February — was not included in the bill the panel is considering Tuesday.

Davidson in November introduced a wide-ranging bill that included privacy protections to Section 702, including a warrant requirement and a prohibition against law enforcement purchasing personal data from data brokers. Republican leadership has announced that a separate bill from Davidson that focuses on the data broker issues could get a floor vote this week under suspension of the rules.

If the House does pass a Section 702 reauthorization bill, it’s unclear how things might play out in the Senate, where multiple lawmakers have proposed their own versions of Section 702 reauthorization legislation.

Last month, Senate Judiciary Chair Richard J. Durbin outlined a reauthorization bill that would renew the authority but also require court approval for certain information collected under the program. The Illinois Democrat has pitched the bill as a “compromise” measure.

Senate Majority Leader Charles E. Schumer, D-N.Y., in a letter addressed to his colleagues, noted the deadline to reauthorize the authority is next week.

“The House is working on a path forward for their legislation,” Schumer wrote. “The Senate must be ready to act quickly on a bipartisan basis to ensure these vital national security authorities do not lapse.”

Recent Stories

Trump endorsement question hangs over Nevada Senate race

Trump griped about trial but did not use holiday to hit multiple swing states

It’s past time to retire covering rallies as signs of momentum

‘Ready for the fight’: After narrow loss in 2022, Logan aims for Hayes’ Connecticut House seat

Strange things are afoot at the Capitol

Photos of the week ending May 24, 2024