FISA Renewal Bill Passed By House, Headed to Senate

On Monday, the House settled procedural business on a bill that would have reformed the warrantless surveillance powers that the federal government currently has, and sent the bill over to the Senate.

Some in Congress’ lower chamber were pushing for an amendment that would’ve added a requirement for federal authorities to receive a warrant as part of Section 702 of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, better known as FISA.

That measure failed, though, as the final vote was a tie, 212-212.

Two different members of the House then offered a competing motion to reconsider that issue, which would’ve pushed the House to reconsider the FISA bill even after passing it without the warrant requirement.

That motion was tabled by a 259-218 vote on Monday, though.

As a result, the reauthorization bill of FISA will be sent to Congress’ upper chamber without the requirement for federal authorities to receive a warrant. That issue had surprisingly united some progressive Democrats with firebrand conservatives.

Under Section 702, federal intelligence agencies have the power to spy only on non-American citizens who are living abroad. However, during those operations, the government quite often sweeps up the communications of Americans who are in contact with these foreigners who are being surveilled.

Those who were in favor of adding a warrant requirement say it is necessary to protect the Fourth Amendment rights of American citizens. Those who are opposed to it say it’s not legally required and would also gut the FISA bill, essentially preventing law enforcement from acting on intelligence information they gather in real-time.

The bill that’s headed to the Senate would re-authorize FISA in its current form for two more years. There will be some reforms added to the program, such as one that will drastically winnow the number of people who are able to authorize use of the Section 702 database to query information that’s related to an American citizen.

These queries now will face an audit after-the-fact.

As a senior official with the Department of Justice told media outlet The Hill this week:

“It is best understood as the most comprehensive set of reforms in the history of the 702 program. This is a true reform bill that will change the way we do business, especially the FBI, in a way that will be more protective of civil liberties and privacy.”

It’s possible that the bill will face some kickback from members of the Senate who are seeking even further reforms to the FISA bill.

In the meantime, the Biden administration is attempting to reassure these senators that the reauthorization bill doesn’t broaden the scope of the people who can be targeted by it.

The administration sent a memo to senators this week, which Politico obtained. It argues that the bill “does not expand the scope” of people who can be targeted, and also includes “explicit limitations” on how the updated law can be put into use.