House Doubles Down on FISA Authorization, Rejects Motion to Reconsider

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By NTD Newsroom
April 15, 2024Congress
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House Doubles Down on FISA Authorization, Rejects Motion to Reconsider
The U.S. Capitol building during a rainy day in Washington on April 2, 2024. (Madalina Vasiliu/The Epoch Times)

The House of Representatives on April 15 rejected a motion to reconsider its vote to reauthorize the controversial Section 702 of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA).

Ahead of the vote on the motion to reconsider put forward by Rep. Anna Paulina Luna (R-Fla.), lawmakers voted to table the motion to avoid its consideration altogether. It was tabled in a 259–168 vote.

Ms. Luna put the measure forward last week following the House’s passage of a two year reauthorization of Section 702 in a 273–147 vote. Consideration of the motion was postponed until this week, although it was largely expected to fail.

The reauthorization passed last week didn’t include a requirement that intelligence agencies get a warrant to search Americans’ data and communications, as an amendment that would have mandated a warrant was rejected in a tie vote.

Section 702 authorizes intelligence agencies to conduct warrantless surveillance of foreigners but it also captures information on Americans with whom the foreign target communicates. This has drawn civil liberty concerns from both sides of the aisle, especially after revelations of expansive misuse by the FBI. The power expires on April 19.

The bill passed by the House is a modified version of Rep. Laurel Lee’s (R-Fla.) “Reforming Intelligence and Securing America Act” that would extend the controversial spying authority for two years, a reduction from a five-year extension rejected by the chamber earlier this week.

Last week, 19 Republicans joined Democrats to tank a procedural vote on a previous version of the bill on the basis that it didn’t go far enough to reform the system and protect civil liberties.

The bill would reform Section 702, which passed in 2008 and allows intelligence officials to gather information on foreign actors working outside of the United States.

However, since the bill was narrowly reauthorized by Congress in 2018, a series of abuses have come to light that have thrown the future of the entire process into question.

These issues have divided Congress and spurred the formation of unlikely alliances across party lines on both sides of the issue.

In 2021, it was discovered that 3.3 million queries on Americans had been made under Section 702.

Though there were fewer the next year, nearly 300,000 queries were still discovered.

The same mechanism was used to improperly spy on former President Donald Trump’s 2016 campaign during the ill-fated Crossfire Hurricane investigation of the president, which was predicated on the false notion that his campaign was working with Russia.

What’s in the Reform Bill?

In response to these and other reported abuses, Ms. Lee’s bill would make some changes to how information is collected and the safeguards around such actions.

It would primarily strengthen requirements to “ensure that applications to the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court … that target United States persons are accurate and complete.”

Other provisions would dramatically cut the numbers of those allowed to perform and authorize FISA queries, which proponents say would help ensure that the law is followed.

Another provision would mandate a flat prohibition on using Section 702 to collect evidence of a crime.

These reforms “will make clear this is an intelligence tool, not a law enforcement tool,” House Intelligence Committee Ranking Member Jim Himes (D-Conn.), a supporter, said during an earlier Rules Committee hearing.

It also strengthens penalties for illegal queries, imposing a fine or up to 10 years in federal prison for violations.

Finally, it would make it easier for Congress to exercise oversight of the program.

With the bill’s passage through the House secured following the failure of Ms. Luna’s motion to reconsider, it will now go to the Senate, where the same disputes over privacy and national security are likely to follow it.

However, it could face a rocky road in the Senate, where individual lawmakers have far more power to obstruct legislation—a threat that Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) has made in regards to FISA reauthorization. Mr. Paul, like his lower chamber counterparts, has demanded that a warrant requirement be attached to the legislation.

Mr. Paul has threatened to let the authority, which will expire on Friday, lapse.

Should the legislation overcome these procedural hurdles in the upper chamber without a warrant requirement, it will likely be quickly signed by President Joe Biden, who has supported a “clean” reauthorization of the program without a warrant requirement.

From The Epoch Times

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