The House Intelligence Committee unveiled its package to renew and reauthorize the nation’s warrantless surveillance powers, the last expected bill as Congress weighs which legislation to support.
Section 702 of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act is set to expire at the end of the year and with it the government’s ability to spy on foreigners located outside the US. The “backdoor” search of Americans communicating with foreign targets.
The Intel bill — introduced just weeks before the law was set to expire — comes as a short-term extension of Section 702 expected to be included in the defense policy bill, prolonging the battle between the various committees. who are competing to know how the law works. changeable.
The House Intelligence bill includes several legislative reforms, such as those designed to give greater oversight to the FBI, which implements the largest search of the 702 database for information collected on Americans.
However, it does not require a warrant to access information on Americans swept up in surveillance, a provision included in a competing package from the House Judiciary Committee, which marked itself into law Wednesday. .
Instead, law enforcement is only required to first obtain a warrant to search the 702 database for evidence of a crime – a small subset of questions.
“702 must be reformed. We have an open and bipartisan, bicameral process that identifies the reforms that are needed and at the same time preserves our ability to collect intelligence on aliens located outside the United States ,” Chair Mike Turner (R-Ohio) told reporters Wednesday.
While the bill contains many reforms to FISA 702, it contains some provisions that expand the law’s application, including authorizing the use of a tool designed to combat terrorism for any non-citizen who is “processed for travel to the United States.”
But much of the legislation is aimed at the FBI, including requiring an FBI supervisor or attorney to sign off on any 702 inquiries involving US-based individuals, something that would limit the group of those conducting or signing off. to find a pool of about 550 people.
The bill also requires the FBI to adopt “zero tolerance for intentional misconduct” in cases where agents misuse the tool.
“We’re revising the 702 process to eliminate abuses and include real criminal liability for those who break the rules,” Turner said.
Some of the reforms codify changes already made by the FBI, which last year also updated its inquiry process to force agents to opt-in to a 702 database search instead of will do so automatically, leading the number of searches affecting Americans to fall from 2.9 million last year to 119,000 this year.
The bill also includes several provisions that would further protect members of Congress or other high-profile officials, including requiring a lawmaker’s approval before gathering information for a “defensive briefing” about a lawmaker targeted by a foreign entity. It also requires the FBI to notify a member of Congress, with some limitations, when they are questioned in the 702 database.
The Intel bill also includes provisions targeting Section 701 of FISA, the part of the law that allows for surveillance of Americans after they obtain a warrant from the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court.
Those parts of the bill seek to strengthen requirements that Carter Page, the Trump campaign adviser who was spied on by the FBI, obtained a warrant containing documents that contained several redundancies. It prohibits law enforcement from using opposition research or media reports as the basis for a warrant, something they say will prevent repeat incidents.
Lawmakers on the panel sought to convey the high stakes involved as the fight to address Section 702 goes down to the wire.
“We started saying before that not reauthorizing 702 is not an option. And reauthorizing 702 without meaningful reforms is not an option,” said Rep. Jim Himes (D-Conn .), the panel’s top Democrat.
“More than 70 percent of the collection of the contents of the president’s daily brief, which is our best intelligence product, is 702-captured.”
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