The Hill: WATCH: Bipartisan support grows to rein in government surveillance law

October 4, 2017
In The News

Support is building among Republicans and Democrats alike to make changes to the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) ahead of the controversial law’s expiration at the year’s end. 

The law, known as Section 702, is aimed at collecting data on foreign spies, terrorists and other targets. Critics argue that Americans’ information can be “incidentally” caught up in the collection, and intelligence officials are allowed to search through and use that data without a warrant, creating a “backdoor search loophole.”

Rep. Jim Jordan (R-Ohio) told The Hill that lawmakers are working to agree on changes to FISA by the end of the year or risk the law expiring altogether.

“Reauthorization of the current law, no way that would pass - there has to be changes,” Jordan said in an interview.

Intelligence officials including Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats and Attorney General Jeff Sessions briefed House lawmakers Wednesday afternoon on the importance of renewing FISA, according to a lawmaker on the House Intelligence Committee. But some in Congress, including Jordan, appear at odds with the administration, which is pressing for a permanent authorization of the current law.

The draft legislation, obtained by The Hill, contains a handful of modest fixes to Section 702.

“(The working draft) does address many of the concerns that many of us have on a bipartisan basis - we don't think, for example, that domestic law enforcement agencies like the FBI should be able to use foreign intelligence against Americans in court, they need a warrant for that,” Rep. Ted Lieu (D-Calif.), a member of the Judiciary Committee, said in an interview.

In the Senate, Intelligence Committee Chairman Richard Burr (R-N.C.) said his panel is focusing on their own bill that may allow some wiggle room on the length of time and measure is extended.

“I think the Senate will work independent of the House and we'll produce a product that I think, mirrors what the body of the Senate has talked about in changes with some type of sunset provision on the authorization,” Burr recently told reporters, stopping short of mentioning specific “changes.” 

Jordan however, told The Hill that the issue is broader than the question of how long to extend the current law.

“We're talking about the 4th amendment, and in light of things we’ve learned about the Obama administration I think we gotta do this very carefully and remember that our job is to safeguard the Constitution and safeguard the bill of rights and make sure that we're doing what needs to be done to protect our country but doing it in a way that is consistent with the Constitution,” he said. 
Sen. Martin Heinrich (D-N.M.), who sits on the Senate Intelligence Committee, said he is open to strengthening civil liberty protections for Americans by shutting the so-called “backdoor.”

“There are times when backdoor searches have occurred and that’s something we need to be very careful about because it could be abused to really be tool to look at Americans information to use that in criminal cases. So I think we need to get this line right,“ Heinrich said.