After years of frustration, Republicans tackle FISA reform on House floor with two options

Critics of reauthorizing FISA without significant reform cite recent reports that the FBI has abused its power under section 702

Published: December 11, 2023 11:00pm

Years after exposing FBI and intelligence community abuses during the Russia collusion probe, Republicans are finally tackling Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) reform on the House floor with two bills that offer major differences in their approach. Only the bill with the most votes will advance to the Senate.

The Protect Liberty and End Warrantless Surveillance Act would cover a time period of three years and end warrantless searches for Americans’ communications under section 702 of FISA.

The exemptions for the warrant requirement include an “imminent threat of death or serious bodily harm" or a “cybersecurity threat signature."

Section 702 of FISA currently "authorizes the federal government to intercept electric communications of non-U.S. persons" outside of the U.S.

The office of Rep. Andy Biggs, R-Ariz., a member of the House Judiciary Committee and one of the sponsors of the Protect Liberty and End Warrantless Surveillance Act, said the "communications of Americans are often swept up when monitoring foreign persons, are kept by the intelligence agencies, and can be later accessed without a warrant."

FISA Reform and Reauthorization Act of 2023 would cover a time period of 8 years and allow warrantless searches under section 702 to continue.

Just the News has learned that this bill would also expand section 702 in certain ways.

India McKinney, director of federal affairs at the Electronic Frontier Foundation, elaborated on the notable differences between the two pieces of legalization.

“The House Judiciary Committee bill only extends the program for 3 years, which seems appropriate, given how flagrantly the IC has been in the past about ignoring Congress’s attempts to reign in the unconstitutional spying on Americans,” she said.

“The House Permanent Select Committee On Intelligence’s approach seems to be more along the lines of ‘trust us, but can’t tell you why, it’s classified,’ which is galling,” she added.

McKinney said House Judiciary Committee’s “approach puts a lot more limits on the program, which is causing a lot of unnamed administration officials to claim that if that bill were to pass, the sky would fall but they don’t tell us why, because it’s classified.”

The Biden Administration has expressed support for continuing the warrantless surveillance, citing national security reasons.

The White House has described section 702 as “one of the nation’s most critical intelligence tools used to protect the homeland and the American people.”

Critics of section 702 cite recent reports that the FBI has abused its power under FISA.

“It’s difficult to trust the administration’s word on this. We believe that these limits are entirely appropriate, and actually, we’d like to see some further transparency matters addressed,” McKinney said.

McKinney said the House Intelligence Committee bill would also expand the definition of an electronic communication service provider include a broader range of providers, including those who “provide hardware through which people communicate on the Internet.”

Both pieces of legislation are being considered under "Queen of the Hill" rules, which will send to the Senate the bill that receives the most votes.

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