Controversial Federal Surveillance Bill Set for Renewal Amid Privacy Concerns

An important federal surveillance tool, Section 702 of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA), is getting closer to being extended by Congress.

On Tuesday night, the House Rules Committee voted 9 to 2 to renew FISA’s Section 702. The federal government may use Section 702 to spy on foreign nationals outside the US without a warrant if they are suspected of having links to terrorism, regardless of whether the other party is an American citizen. Proponents of vital national security and those working in the intelligence community see it as a critical instrument in the fight against future attacks similar to 9/11. After reports of misuse to gather data on Americans, opponents, who include conservatives and progressives alike, have been trying to restrict its usage.

While Speaker Mike Johnson (R-La.) struggles with a razor-thin majority, House Republicans have endured some of the most heated fights over the renewal of Section 702. The present procedure marks the third effort by House GOP leaders to reauthorize the tool before the April 19 deadline.

House Judiciary Committee and House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence members came together to draft the Reforming Intelligence and Securing America Act, a compromise measure limiting the use of Section 702 data collected from individuals, especially Americans, to prevent abuse. Per the parameters agreed upon in the Rules Committee, the House will vote on a Judiciary Committee-backed amendment to prohibit warrantless searches of U.S. residents before voting on the final measure.

Following September 11, 2001, Congress approved a bill that gave the United States government the authority to eavesdrop on foreign nationals without a warrant. Critics argue that the government may allegedly use evidence obtained without court clearance to make arrests, going against the rights afforded by the U.S. Constitution against arbitrary searches and seizures.

Following the decision, critics from both the left and the right declared their intention to seek a court order mandating that domestic security services get consent before accessing American citizens’ electronic communications. According to FBI Director Christopher Wray, who made the statement on Tuesday, authorities would be “blinding ourselves” if they were required to consult a court before using the data.

At a press conference before the vote, Johnson said that the updated version had more safeguards for Americans.