Speaker Johnson Hopes to Find Path to Reform Spy Powers

2024-04-04 16:54:05

The House seeks to reauthorize a controversial spy program when Congress returns from recess next week.

The House will return from recess, where Speaker Mike Johnson (R-LA) must figure out how a path to reauthorize Section 702 of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA), a controversial spy program that is meant to surveil foreign adversaries but is often use to spy on American citizens. This run around the Fourth Amendment protections against warrantless searches is often referred to as a backdoor search.

Reports suggest that there will be an all-House briefing on April 10, which will come from the offices of the Director of National Intelligence (ODNI), CIA, FBI, NSA, and Department of Defense.

Johnson has punted twice on reauthorizing FISA as he has tried to mend divisions between the more reform-minded lawmakers and those who are more sympathetic to the intelligence agencies’ needs.

House Judiciary Committee Chairman Jim Jordan and committee Ranking Member Jerry Nadler (D-NY) want to have any bill that comes to the floor have a provision added to any FISA reauthorization bill that would require intelligence agencies to obtain a warrant, per the Constitution, to search the communications of any U.S. citizen.

WATCH — Matt Gaetz Grills FBI Director Wray: FBI Agents Using FISA as “CREEPY, Personal SNOOP Machine”

House Committee on the Judiciary / YouTube

House Intelligence Committee Chairman Mike Turner (R-OH) and Jim Hines (D-CT) do not want this provision.

The most likely path for the bill would be for the previous “compromise” bill, which largely mirrored the bill drafted by the House Intelligence Committee, to go through the House Rules Committee and allow amendment votes on the warrant requirement and another to ban government agencies from using third-party data brokers to obtain Americans’ communications.

The hitch in this likely plan is that the last time the House moved to pass a FISA bill, the House Intelligence Committee members did not show up to the Rules Committee hearing to allow amendments on the bill, breaking the process by which reform and anti-reform lawmakers could allow for consideration of the bill.

WATCH — Rep. Jim Jordan: Warrants Should Be Required for Section 702, Separate But Equal Branch Should Hold Intelligence Agencies Accountable

House Rules Committee


For many conservatives, the next few weeks represent a critical moment for lawmakers to rein in government surveillance abuse and protect civil liberties.

Rep. Warren Davidson (R-OH) wrote:

Freedom surrendered is rarely reclaimed. Next week, Congress once again confronts an opportunity for reform and accountability of #FISA. Last time, Mike Turner scuttled debate by creating an international incident, and the Speaker pulled the bill. Demand a debate and recorded vote to require warrants to search American citizens’ data, to limit the scope of collection, and to stop the government from avoiding warrants by buying data that would require a warrant or subpoena.

Sen. Mike Lee (R-UT) remarked, “To reauthorize FISA 702 without language protecting Americans from warrantless searches, the House would have to create another distraction to shut down the debate. The Firm and the Intel Bros have weakened the Fourth Amendment far too much. No more!”

Noah Chauvin and Elizbeth Goitein, two surveillance and privacy experts at the Brennan Center for Justice, told the New York Sun, “The problem is compounded by what one federal judge described as the FBI’s ‘persistent and widespread’ abuses of the minimal rules governing backdoor searches.”

Chauvin and Goitein added, “Intelligence officials are only supposed to perform these searches if they reasonably believe they are likely to uncover foreign intelligence, or, in the case of the FBI, evidence of a crime. It’s an extremely permissive rule, yet agencies have repeatedly violated it.”

FreedomWorks and Demand Progress have aggregated just a few of the ways that intelligence agencies have abused Americans’ privacy:

  1. “[T]ens of thousands” of baseless searches “related to civil unrest” in a one-year period, including 141 racial justice protesters and thousands of January 6 suspects.
  2. Searches for individuals an NSA analyst had met on an online dating site and a prospective tenant.
  3. Searches for a state court judge who reported civil rights violations to the FBI.
  4. Searches for places of worship that were intentionally hidden from oversight.
  5. Searches for a member of HPSCI and a U.S. senator.
  6. A “batch” search for 19,000 Congressional donors.
  7. “Batch” searches that included current and former federal government officials, journalists, and political commentators.
  8. Searches for people who came to the FBI to perform repairs.
  9. Searches for victims who came to the FBI to report crimes.
  10. Searches for business, religious, and community leaders who applied to participate in the FBI’s “Citizens Academy.”
  11. Searches for college students participating in a “Collegiate Academy.”
  12. Searches for family members and colleagues.
  13. Searches for police officer candidates.
  14. Searches for an individual employed by a defense attorney.
  15. Searches for a wrongly accused American academic.
  16. Searches based on a witness’s report that two men “of Middle Eastern descent” were loading cleaning supplies into a truck.
  17. Searches for a local political party.
  18. “Batch” searches for 1600 Americans “who had flown through an airport during a particular date range and were either traveling to or returning from a foreign country.”
  19. 2,000 searches for “the names and dates of birth of individuals who were registered competitors in an athletic event.”

Lawmakers in Congress’s upper chamber have also called to reform FISA.

Sens. Lee and Dick Durbin (D-IL) proposed their own FISA bill that would require either a warrant or a FISA court order before surveilling Americans.

“This narrow warrant requirement is carefully crafted to ensure that it is feasible to implement and sufficiently flexible to accommodate legitimate security needs,” the lawmakers wrote in their bill summary.

Sean Moran is a policy reporter for Breitbart News. Follow him on Twitter @SeanMoran3.

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