A group of lawmakers on the House Judiciary Committee has unveiled legislation Monday to restrict the intelligence community’s warrantless surveillance authority and impose stiffer punishments for violations.
Spearheaded by Arizona GOP Rep. Andy Biggs, the plan boasts Judiciary Chairman Jim Jordan, R-Ohio, Ranking member Jerold Nadler, D-N.Y., and Rep. Pramila Jayapal, D-Wash., as cosponsors, The Hill reported.
Both houses of Congress have adjourned for two weeks until after Thanksgiving even as major legislative work that must be completed before the year ends remains unfinished.
House Judiciary Committee Republicans are pressing ahead with sweeping reforms to the government’s FISA surveillance powers that among other things would would prohibit the FBI from searching through Americans’ phone records without a court-approved warrant.
President Joe Biden’s nominee to lead top intelligence agencies described a tool used to surveil Americans without a warrant as vital at his confirmation hearing Wednesday.
U.S. Air Force Lt. Gen. Timothy Haugh characterized Section 702 of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA), a tool that has been abused to spy on Americans, as “extensively used” and “irreplaceable” in his testimony to the Senate Intelligence Committee. Biden nominated Haugh to head both Cyber Command and the National Security Agency (NSA) in May, according to Politico.
FBI Director Christopher Wray declined to answer direct questions from lawmakers on several hot-button issues at a House Judiciary Committee oversight hearing.
The performance on Wednesday generated frustration on both sides of the political aisle, and a rebuke from FBI alumni.
Congressional Democrats have joined in bipartisan effort to reform the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act amid abuses but GOP outrage over the findings in the Durham Report, including recent calls to impeach Attorney General Merrick Garland over such matters, has likely hurt such efforts.
Congressional reauthorization of FISA is due in December, with particular focus on Section 702 of the law, which permits the government to conduct targeted surveillance on foreign people outside the U.S., with the assistance of electronic communication service providers, to acquire foreign intelligence information.
On Monday, the office of the Inspector General at the National Security Agency (NSA) released a report showing that the agency failed to follow basic internal guidelines and court-ordered procedures in its surveillance of American citizens’ communications.
According to CNN, the report showed that the agency abused a loophole in Section 702 of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA). While Section 702 allows the government to collect such communications of foreign citizens on foreign soil without a warrant, it prohibits the government from doing so with American citizens. The loophole allows the NSA and the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) to use this section to collect American communications without a warrant if they believe “a query is reasonably likely to return foreign intelligence information.”
The inspector general’s report “revealed a number of concerns involving [U.S. person] identifiers used as query terms against FISA Section 702 data.” Furthermore, some of these NSA queries “did not always follow NSA procedural and policy requirements.” Among other discrepancies, information gathered on “selectors,” or particular search terms in an investigation, were not properly documented; in addition, the NSA’s internal query tools designed to automatically prevent the processing of queries involving any Americans associated with the selectors ultimately failed to do so, thus allowing Americans to be investigated and monitored.