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House Rules Committee Advances Surveillance Bill, Leaves Warrant Requirement Decision Pending

House Rules Committee Advances Surveillance Bill, Leaves Warrant Requirement Decision Pending

Apr 10, 2024

House Rules Committee Advances Surveillance Bill, Leaves Warrant Requirement Decision Pending

In a late-night vote, the House Rules Committee moved forward with a bill that aims to reauthorize Section 702 of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA), a significant post-9/11 spying authority. After the April 9 hearing, the committee approved a bill that introduces some reforms to the program but deferred the decision on whether queries of Americans’ data should require a warrant, setting the stage for a future showdown on the House floor.

The "Reforming Intelligence and Securing America" Act, proposed by Rep. Laurel Lee (R-Fla.), seeks to extend the authority of Section 702 for five years, alongside implementing changes. Section 702 was originally passed in 2008 to permit the collection of information on foreign targets operating outside the U.S. Despite its intent, the program has faced criticism over abuses, with 3.3 million queries on Americans reported in 2021 and nearly 300,000 in the following year. Notably, Section 702 was implicated in the controversial surveillance of President Trump’s 2016 campaign in the Crossfire Hurricane investigation.

What Does the Reform Bill Propose?

Rep. Lee's bill includes provisions to enhance the accuracy and completeness of applications made to the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court targeting U.S. persons. It also proposes to reduce the number of officials authorized to perform FISA queries and mandates a prohibition on using Section 702 to collect evidence of a crime, in an effort to underline its role as an intelligence tool.

House Intelligence Committee Ranking Member Jim Himes (D-Conn.), a supporter of the bill, asserts that these reforms will clarify the intended intelligence purpose of the tool and not for law enforcement. The legislation also introduces stronger penalties for illegal queries, including fines or prison time, and aims to facilitate greater oversight by Congress.

Debate Over Warrants

The crux of the debate centers on whether queries involving Americans' data under Section 702 should require a warrant. Proponents of an amendment to impose a warrant requirement argue it is essential for safeguarding citizens' privacy given the history of abuses. House Judiciary Chairman Jim Jordan (R-Ohio) and Ranking Member Jerry Nadler (D-N.Y.) found rare common ground, both advocating for the amendment.

On the other side of the argument, some members of the House Intelligence Committee, including Chairman Mike Turner (R-Ohio), are against a warrant requirement, suggesting it could be 'cumbersome' and 'potentially compromise national security.' They argue that the communications accessed under FISA are with foreign terrorist groups and do not warrant constitutional protection.

Uncertain Fate of the Bill

With the bill now past the Rules Committee, it is up to House Speaker Mike Johnson (R-La.) to schedule a vote on the House floor. Johnson has hinted at opposing the warrant requirement, suggesting the leadership may follow suit. The bill's success is likely to hinge on whether or not the warrant amendment is included.

Should the bill clear the House, it faces an equally divided Senate where bipartisan groups have emerged both in favor and against the warrant requirement.

Originally reported by The Epoch Times


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