Senate Approves 77-day Extension of FISA Court’s Surveillance Powers

Isabel van Brugen
By Isabel van Brugen
March 17, 2020Politics
Senate Approves 77-day Extension of FISA Court’s Surveillance Powers
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) speaks at a press conference in Washington on Feb. 5, 2020. (Mandel Ngan/AFP via Getty Images)

The Senate on March 16 agreed to a 77-day extension of a set of FBI surveillance tools under the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) that had expired Sunday night, to allow lawmakers time for further negotiations on necessary reforms to the powerful domestic eavesdropping program that saw wiretapping of individuals in the Trump campaign.

The measure, which extends and updates domestic surveillance rules under FISA, is retroactive to Saturday. It must still pass the Senate and requires the signature of President Donald Trump before it can become law.

The Senate had been scheduled to hold an initial procedural vote on Monday evening on a bill passed in the House of Representatives last week that would have reauthorized and reformed some of the program.

Instead, senators, led by Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), unanimously agreed on the temporary extension to allow further consideration for amendments to the House bill.

The role of the FISA Court has become a subject of controversy.

President Donald Trump’s supporters have called for FISA reforms after the Justice Department’s Inspector General Michael Horowitz in December 2019 issued a scathing report that faulted the FBI for “at least 17 significant errors and omissions” in applications submitted to the FISA court when it sought to wiretap Trump’s former campaign adviser Carter Page as part of its investigation into alleged contacts between Trump’s campaign and Russia—a narrative that has since been discounted by the Mueller Report.

Trump, who is convinced that surveillance tools covered by the legislation were improperly used against his 2016 campaign, has demanded tighter controls on authorities allowed under the law.

Backers of the program consider it an essential tool for intelligence agencies’ efforts to fight terrorism.

The bill passed in the House was written with Attorney General William Barr, considered one of Trump’s strongest defenders. But it failed to pass opposition in the Senate without votes on the amendments.

Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) is expected to push for a Senate vote on a proposal to block FISA warrants from being used against Americans. Meanwhile, Sen. Mike Lee (R-Utah) is expected to propose an amendment that would strengthen legal protections for targets of surveillance, The Hill reported.

Sen. Ron Wyden, (D-Ore.), who serves on the Senate Intelligence Committee, on Monday pushed for an amendment that would put an end to web browser surveillance and one that would establish independent oversight of the FISA process.

“Under this agreement, the Senate will have an opportunity to debate whether the government can conduct digital tracking of Americans without a warrant,” Wyden said, according to Fox News. “Everyone who was concerned about the government collecting their library records, or seeing who you called, should be terrified that the government can grab your Internet browsing history without a warrant.

Attorney General William Barr last week voiced his support for the passage of the House bill, reauthorizing the FISA.

“It is of the utmost important that the Department’s attorneys and investigators always work in a manner consistent with the highest professional standards, and this overall package will help ensure the integrity of the FISA process and protect against future abuses going forward,” Barr said.

Reuters contributed to this report.

From The Epoch Times

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