Biden Signs FISA Reauthorization Bill Into Law

Biden Signs FISA Reauthorization Bill Into Law
President Joe Biden steps off of Air Force One upon arrival at Delaware Air National Guard in New Castle, Del., on April 19, 2024. (Julia Nikhinson/AFP via Getty Images)

President Joe Biden has signed legislation that reauthorizes a controversial U.S. surveillance law that faced criticism over concerns that the program would be used to comb through Americans’ personal data.

The White House announced on April 20 that President Biden had signed H.R. 7888, or the “Reforming Intelligence and Securing America Act,” into law, extending and modifying Section 702 of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA).

The Senate approved the bill in a 60–34 vote that concluded shortly after midnight Friday, prompting national security adviser Jake Sullivan to issue a statement praising its passage, calling FISA “one of the United States’ most vital intelligence tools,” and giving assurance that the president would sign it “swiftly.”

The vote came after lingering disagreements over the controversial surveillance program had Senate leadership scrambling to strike a deal on the rules of debate and amendments.

Lawmakers took votes on a series of amendments that would strengthen civil liberty protections.

However, none of these—including an amendment by Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) to require a warrant to search Americans’ Section 702 data and another by Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) to prohibit federal law enforcement from purchasing Americans’ data from third-party brokers—were passed by the Senate.

That’s in part because senators wanted to ensure the authority didn’t lapse, as the vote began less than four hours before it was due to expire.

Sen. Mark Warner (D-Va.), head of the Senate Intelligence Committee, urged other lawmakers at the start of the vote series to oppose all amendments, as they would render Congress unable to reauthorize the program before it expires, as any amendments would need to be authorized by a vote of the House.

Mr. Paul, a leading proponent of making changes to the program, shot back, “We’ve had five years to do this,” accusing supporters of Section 702 of waiting until the eleventh hour to reauthorize the program in order to force its passage unamended.

Critics said its speedy reauthorization was critical for national security.

“The threats to American security are flashing red,” Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) said. “Our adversaries are as intent as ever on sowing chaos and violence, and a vote to send this critical legislation back to the House today is a vote to make their job easier. The Senate must not let Section 702 go dark.”

Sen. Roger Marshall (R-Kan.) expressed frustration over the process in voting on the bill, which made it nearly impossible for any Senate amendments to pass.

Ahead of final passage, he predicted that none of the amendments—including his own—would pass due to the last-minute nature of the vote.

He told The Epoch Times that the real goal of the late-night vote was to ensure that senators would be in town the next day for a vote on a $95 billion foreign aid package expected to easily pass the House on April 20.

‘A Substantial and Dangerous Expansion’

FISA Section 702 authorizes intelligence agencies to conduct warrantless surveillance on foreign nationals overseas. But the FBI’s rampant misuse of the tool to spy on U.S. citizens has alarmed those on both ends of the political spectrum.

Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.), rising to voice his objections to the bill, described it as “a very substantial and dangerous expansion” of the federal government’s warrantless surveillance authorities.

One provision of the bill, he noted, expands the list of electronic service providers that the federal government could compel to provide the communications of U.S. citizens who are suspected of having contacted foreign targets.

“You don’t have to change the targeting rules to threaten Americans’ privacy,” Mr. Wyden said. “If the government thinks that its foreign targets are communicating with people in the United States, they can go right to the source—the WiFi, the phone lines, servers, servers that transmit or store those communications.”

Sen. Josh Hawley (R-Mo.) shared that concern, warning in an X post that the bill would “turn landlords and computer repairmen into spies.”

In a speech on the floor, Sen. Mike Lee (R-Utah) argued that the bill, rather than reforming FISA, expands it.

“In fact, [the bill] authorizes the largest expansion of surveillance on U.S. domestic soil since the passage of the PATRIOT Act,” Mr. Lee said.

“Egregious Fourth Amendment violations against U.S. citizens will increase dramatically if this bill is passed into law as it stands now,” Mr. Lee said.

Mr. Paul lamented the passage of the authority unamended in a post on X.

“Yet again the Senate was asked to consider the question: can liberty be exchanged for security? And sadly the majority of Senators said yes it can,” Mr. Paul wrote.

Warrant Requirements Divide Congress

Republicans and Democrats alike have voiced support for requiring intelligence agencies to obtain a warrant—for which they would need to show probable cause to believe a crime was committed—to view the communications of U.S. citizens.

An amendment to require a warrant to query Americans’ Section 702 data was taken up in both chambers, but failed on each occasion.

Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas) argued that adding such a requirement would “decimate the effectiveness of Section 702.”

“Section 702 provides the agility we need to stay ahead,” Mr. Cornyn said on the Senate floor. “Requiring a warrant for every inquiry into lawfully collected information in the 702 database would significantly hinder the ability to respond to emerging threats.”

The senator touted the measure before the Senate as a “reform bill” that, even without a warrant provision, addresses many of the issues that have been raised about Section 702 in its current form.

Specifically, the bill narrows the list of those allowed to authorize and search the FISA 702 database, prohibits the tool’s use to collect evidence of a crime, and institutes new requirements on applications to the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court that target U.S. persons. The measure also strengthens penalties for illegal inquiries and makes it easier for Congress to conduct oversight of the program.

Mr. Cornyn further charged that if Section 702 were not reauthorized, the United States’ intelligence capabilities would “take a hit—there’s no question about it.”

The White House has taken the same position on the bill.

Earlier this week, Mr. Sullivan put out a statement applauding Senate leaders for quickly taking up the measure.

“This legislation, which passed the House with robust bipartisan support, ensures that the U.S. government has the tools to protect our national security while dramatically enhancing protections for privacy and civil liberties,” he said, while calling on the Senate to send it to the president’s desk “quickly.”

From The Epoch Times

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