The expiration of Section 702 under the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act is imminent by the year-end. Although designed for surveilling foreign nationals beyond US borders, the program has been subject to repeated misuse by the government.
Congress faces the critical decision of extending the lifespan of the contentious program, and time is running out. The FBI director is urging lawmakers to maintain it, while there is a push from civil rights activists, Republicans, and other quarters to terminate it. A legislator thinks he has a resolution to the issue that could appease both factions and simultaneously safeguard Americans.
Introduced on December 4, Representative Andy Biggs (R-AZ) presented the Protect Liberty and End Warrantless Surveillance Act (HR 6570). The bill proposes a three-year reauthorization of the program but entails a significant overhaul of Section 702. It mandates that the government obtain a warrant for all searches conducted on individuals within the United States.
Additionally, the bill aims to eliminate loopholes enabling federal authorities to acquire Americans’ data from tech companies via data brokers and seeks reforms for the FISA Court. On December 6, the House Judiciary Committee progressed the legislation with a vote of 35-2.
Representative Biggs issued a statement commending the committee’s action and elucidating the issues with the existing rendition of Section 702. He clarified that the program enables the government to intercept communications of individuals situated outside the country. Frequently, Americans get caught in the surveillance, and intelligence agencies retain their communications, which can be accessed later without obtaining a warrant.
A bipartisan coalition of legislators and the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) back the legislation. Kia Hamadanchy, spokesperson for the ACLU’s senior policy counsel, issued a statement, urging the House to approve the legislation. The spokesperson emphasized the heightened significance, especially in a time when Americans extensively engage online, of ensuring that the government refrains from conducting surveillance on its people.
In a collective statement with fellow sponsors, House Judiciary Chairman Jim Jordan (R-OH) commended his colleagues for the successful passage of the legislation. He remarked that the approval marked a significant stride in implementing long-overdue reforms to FISA. The legislation achieves this goal by incorporating safeguards to shield Americans from potential abuses.
The legislation proposed by Biggs will now proceed to the House floor for further deliberation.