House passes FISA renewal without added warrant mandate for US data

A bill to renew a key federal government surveillance tool passed the House of Representatives on Friday, teeing it up for a Senate vote about a week before it’s set to expire.

A modified version of the original bill passed a procedural hurdle late on Thursday after a group of 19 conservative privacy hawks sunk the House GOP’s chance at passing it earlier this week.

The legislation is aimed at reforming Section 702 of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA), which allows the government to surveil foreigners abroad with suspected terror links without a warrant. Section 702 allows the FBI to collect communications of a narrow list of foreign targets, even if the person on the other end of the suspect’s communications is an American. 

HOUSE COMMITTEE SETS UP VOTE TO EXPAND SECTION 702 OF FISA FOR 2 YEARS

Speaker Mike Johnson is leading the renewal of FISA Section 702. (Getty Images)

The battle over its renewal has put Johnson in a tough spot between privacy and national security hawks within his conference, while he also navigates a razor-thin majority of just two seats.

National security hawks and members of the intelligence community have called it a critical tool for preventing another 9/11-style attack. However, critics, including both conservatives and progressives, have been seeking to limit its scope after reported instances of abuse to collect data on Americans.

To do that, the House Judiciary Committee backed an amendment that would have required a warrant to query Americans’ data that was collected in the Section 702 system. Opponents of the measure have said it would critically hamper the intelligence community’s ability to quickly detect major threats, and equated it to forcing police to get a warrant before running a license plate during a traffic stop.

It was tense in the House chamber on Friday when that amendment – which ultimately failed to pass in a 212 to 212 vote – was being considered. Johnson cast a critical and potentially decisive vote against the amendment.

An unusual political scene unfurled as members of the ultra-conservative House Freedom Caucus cheered for progressive Squad members voting in favor of the amendment.

HOUSE REPUBLICANS BLAST ‘CRY WOLF’ CONSERVATIVES WHO TANKED FISA RENEWAL BILL

Chip Roy

Rep. Chip Roy was one of 19 conservative privacy hawks who sunk the bill earlier this week.

The Reforming Intelligence and Securing America (RISA) Act is a compromise effort between the House Judiciary and Intelligence committees aimed at narrowing who can access communications collected, and making it a crime to misuse that data.

But the conservatives who voted to tank the bill on Wednesday said it did not go far enough to protect Americans’ data. Many were also angry at the exclusion of an amendment by Rep. Warren Davidson, R-Ohio, that would have forced the federal government to seek a warrant before buying Americans’ data from third parties. 

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Opponents of the amendment argued it did not have to do with Section 702 and would have sunk the bill’s chances of passing in the Senate.

They were also backed by former President Donald Trump, who pushed back on the RISA bill on Wednesday morning, declaring on Truth Social, “KILL FISA.”

Trump Mar-a-Lago

Republican presidential candidate and former President Donald Trump opposed the RISA Act earlier this week. (Win McNamee/Getty Images)

House GOP leaders assuaged conservatives’ concerns by promising a standalone vote on Davidson’s amendment, though the timing of that is still unclear.

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The modified legislation also shrinks the Section 702 reauthorization window from five years to two years. 

It would give the opportunity for the next administration, likely a Trump or Biden White House, to reform the tool early in the next presidential term.

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