House Reauthorizes Controversial Spy Tool

But measure to extend FISA is for only 2 years, to satisfy GOP objections
By Newser Editors and Wire Services
Posted Apr 12, 2024 12:46 PM CDT
House Reauthorizes Controversial Spy Tool
Speaker of the House Mike Johnson, R-La., flanked by Rep. Maria Salazar, R-Fla., left, and Majority Leader Steve Scalise, R-La., speaks during a news conference on Capitol Hill in Washington, Wednesday, April 10, 2024.   (AP Photo/Jose Luis Magana)

The House passed a bill Friday to reauthorize a controversial US government surveillance tool without including broad restrictions on how the FBI uses the program to search for Americans' data. The bill, approved 273-147, now goes to the Senate, where the Wall Street Journal reports that it is expected to pass. The program is set to expire on April 19 unless Congress acts.

  • Johnson's move: House Speaker Mike Johnson brought forward the revised proposal, which would reform and extend a section of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act known as Section 702 for a shortened period of two years, instead of the full five-year reauthorization first proposed, per the AP. Johnson correctly bet that the shorter timeline would sway GOP critics by pushing any future debate on the issue to the presidency of Donald Trump if he were to win back the White House in November. Republicans were split 126-88 on the vote, and Democrats were 147-59, per the New York Times.

  • What it does: The legislation in question would permit the US government to collect, without a warrant, the communications of non-Americans located outside the country to gather foreign intelligence. The reauthorization is currently tied to a series of reforms aimed at satisfying critics who complained of civil liberties violations against Americans.
  • One failure: A separate provision, ending warrantless surveillance of Americans, was also offered on the floor Friday, but despite gaining support from strange bedfellows from the far-right and far-left, the measure ultimately failed to get a majority of the votes required to pass the House.
  • Opponents: The administration's efforts to secure reauthorization of the program have repeatedly encountered fierce, and bipartisan, pushback, with Democrats like Sen. Ron Wyden who have long championed civil liberties aligning with Republican supporters of former President Trump, who in a post on Truth Social this week railed against the law. "Kill FISA," he wrote. "It was illegally used against me, and many others."
(More FISA stories.)

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