Senate proposes surveillance bill without FBI warrant requirement

Jason Macuray
A bipartisan group of U.S. senators on Tuesday introduced legislation to renew a powerful electronic spying program for a dozen more years, while eschewing some of the reforms sought by privacy advocates.

A bipartisan group of U.S. senators on Tuesday introduced legislation to renew a powerful electronic spying program for a dozen more years, while eschewing some of the reforms sought by privacy advocates.

The measure marks the third bill introduced in the past month that would extend a law known as Section 702 of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act. Like the others, it would allow the National Security Agency to continue intercepting the communications of foreign espionage or terrorism suspects that transit through U.S. telecom and internet companies.

Section 702 is slated to expire at the end of the year. The multiple proposals for extending it offer variations on how to handle data that the tool vacuums up about an unknown number of American citizens every year.

The latest bill, which would extend Section 702 until 2035, is co-sponsored by Senate Intelligence Committee leaders Mark Warner (VA) and Marco Rubio (FL), as well as several panel members. It is also notably supported by Sen. Lindsey Graham (SC), the top Republican on the Judiciary Committee, which shares oversight of the FISA statute.

Unlike a bill introduced earlier this month by House and Senate privacy hawks, the new measure would not require the FBI to obtain a warrant before searching the NSA’s massive data trove for information related to Americans — something lawmakers on both sides of the aisle have demanded after a series of disclosures that the FBI has abused the authority hundreds of thousands of times to conduct wrongful searches of U.S. data.

The Biden administration has adamantly opposed a warrant mandate, arguing it would cripple the vital intelligence tool.

The Senate bill includes prohibitions on U.S. searches conducted solely to find evidence of a crime and proposes more compliance requirements on the FBI, such as an annual report to Capitol Hill about various aspects of how the bureau accesses FISA data.

The measure also calls for the creation of “compliance officers” at each agency that deals with the secretive court that oversees FISA or gleans information from the program.

The Senate bill’s introduction further complicates congressional renewal efforts with less than five calendar weeks before the tool is set to expire.

The House Intelligence Committee earlier this month unveiled a primer for its forthcoming Section 702 renewal bill, which would make more than 40 reforms to the controversial program.

However, House Judiciary Committee Chairman Jim Jordan (R-OH), one of FISA’s top critics, is readying a measure of his own.

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Martin Matishak is a senior cybersecurity reporter for The Record. He spent the last five years at Politico, where he covered Congress, the Pentagon and the U.S. intelligence community and was a driving force behind the publication’s cybersecurity newsletter.

 

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