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Senate leaders seek quick action on key surveillance authority

A tight schedule for Section 702 reauthorization after bruising House process

Senate Majority Leader Charles E. Schumer, D-N.Y., left, and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., attend a photo op with Prime Minister Fumio Kishida last week.
Senate Majority Leader Charles E. Schumer, D-N.Y., left, and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., attend a photo op with Prime Minister Fumio Kishida last week. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)

The House dispensed with a procedural issue Monday on a bill that would renew a powerful surveillance authority for two years, as Senate leaders of both parties stressed the need to reauthorize the program before it lapses on Friday.

Majority Leader Charles E. Schumer, D-N.Y., said Monday the Senate “must finish approving legislation” to extend Section 702 of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act.

But he noted that the chamber also will have to deal with impeachment articles for Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas set to arrive Tuesday.

“With less than a week to go before FISA authorities expire, time is a luxury the Senate doesn’t have,” Schumer said. “Republicans need to work with us in a bipartisan way to ensure this program with important implications for our national security does not lapse.”

FISA Section 702 allows the U.S. government to collect digital communications of foreigners located outside the country. But the program also brings in the communications of Americans and allows the FBI to search through data without a warrant, using information such as an email address.

Privacy hawks from both parties in the Senate have telegraphed concerns about the House-passed bill over privacy issues.

That includes whether the bill should require the government to get a warrant to tap into information about Americans — an issue that bitterly divided the House last week when the chamber declined to add a warrant requirement by the thinnest of margins.

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., in a floor speech Monday praised the authority as a key tool in identifying terrorism against the U.S. and slammed the idea of a warrant requirement.

“Misguided efforts that require a criminal-law warrant to sort and organize those data on U.S. persons would end, end the ability of the FBI to keep Americans safe,” he said. “Frankly, they would forget the lessons of 9/11. So I’ll oppose any such efforts and urge my colleagues to do the same.”

House lawmakers on Friday voted to pass the bill, which would continue Section 702 for two years. In a nail-biter decision, the chamber in a 212-212 vote rejected an amendment that would have added a warrant requirement to the program.

The warrant requirement was backed by progressive Democrats and staunch conservatives but opposed by intelligence-focused lawmakers on both sides of the aisle.

Backers of the amendment sought to drum up support for a push to reconsider the House legislation, but the House quashed that effort in a 259-128 vote Monday evening.

Several senators have supported legislation that would impose a warrant requirement.

Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Ore., in a statement Friday, pledged to do everything in his power to stop the House-passed bill, arguing it would allow the government to force any American who maintains or repairs “anything that transmits communications to spy on the government’s behalf.”

“The House bill represents one of the most dramatic and terrifying expansions of government surveillance authority in history,” Wyden said.

Sen. Mike Lee, R-Utah, on social media was encouraging the public to lobby their representatives to support the push to reconsider the House bill.

“FISA 702 should not be reauthorized without a warrant requirement to protect Americans,” the social media post read. “Please ask your representative to vote “no” on the motion to table the motion to reconsider.”

“Politicians who love freedom don’t authorize warrantless surveillance of American citizens,” read another post. “Fix FISA 702. Or shut it down.”

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