(RightWing.org) – A key federal surveillance bill will be expiring soon, and what happens next could have a big influence on Americans’ privacy. The Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) is due to be reauthorized alongside the National Defense Reauthorization Act, but some lawmakers aren’t convinced that’s a good idea. Representative Jim Jordan (R-OH) is one of them.
Controversial Spy Rules Up For Renewal
One goal of FISA is to allow US intelligence agencies to carry out surveillance on foreigners — mainly spies and terrorists — outside the US. That’s done under Section 702 of the Act, a later addition. FISA itself was passed by Congress in 1978, but Section 702 is a lot newer; it didn’t appear until the 2008 FISA Amendments Act, and it both recognized that electronic surveillance was increasingly important and tried to bring it under some sort of control. Representative Jordan is one of many who think it hasn’t worked very well. Despite the amendment, the law is actually looser than it used to be; for example, the 2007 Protect America Act made it easier to intercept communications if one of the parties is outside the US. That means the other could be inside the US, or even an American citizen. The standard of proof is low, too; intelligence agencies just have to “reasonably believe” the person they have surveillance on is outside the US.
FISA is due to expire on December 31, and if Congress doesn’t reauthorize it, it will lapse. Jordan, who’s chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, thinks Americans deserve better protection against unauthorized surveillance and it shouldn’t be extended in its current form. Along with an unlikely alliance of liberals and human rights groups, he’s pushing for Section 702 to be amended to require warrants for any information about US citizens.
Jordan Proposes New Bill
Jordan and his colleagues on the committee want to bring in new legislation to curb the federal government’s surveillance powers. In a letter to congressional leadership he said FISA needs “Standalone legislation subject to robust, open debate and amendment,” instead of simply being reauthorized.
On December 6 the Judiciary Committee looked at amendments that would bring back the requirement for a warrant if agencies want to intercept communications involving American citizens, which was removed in 2007. There would be exceptions for emergencies, but the current free-for-all would be ended.
Jordan points out that the FBI carried out over 200,000 searches of Americans’ data in 2022, saying, “There are 204,000 reasons why Republicans will oppose FISA reauthorization in its current form.” If he gets the changes he wants, our intelligence agencies will still be able to collect the data they need — but there will be proper oversight again.
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