House Freedom Caucus members gave a hardy push for adding a warrant requirement to an upcoming bill that would extend the nation’s warrantless surveillance program without the favored provisions from privacy advocates.
The House this week is set to review a bill to reauthorize Section 702 of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA), which allows the government to spy on noncitizens located abroad.
But surveillance of their communications sweeps in their contacts with U.S. citizens, something privacy advocates view as a backdoor search on Americans.
“At the end of the day, we’ve got to make sure that our government can’t keep spying on us citizens without a warrant,” House Freedom Caucus Chair Bob Good (R-Va.) said at a Tuesday press conference.
“Simply put, anonymous bureaucrats have abused this tool that was intended for supporting surveillance of threats to spy on American citizens, but conservatives are fighting for strict reforms to this law.”
FISA Section 702 was set to expire at the end of the year, but it was revived through a roughly three-month extension after House Republicans were unable to reach a consensus on competing packages from the Intelligence and Judiciary committees.
A working group from the two panels has continued that discussion, forwarding compromise text Monday that, while an amalgamation of the two bills, more heavily favors the Intel package.
The bill includes numerous reforms for the FBI, the agency found to have most frequently improperly queried the 702 database, but does not include a warrant requirement.
Instead, it severely limits the number of FBI personnel who can approve an agent’s search.
Adding a warrant requirement has been called a red line by the intelligence community, who, with the backing of the White House, has argued it would severely hamper their ability to review lawfully collected information. Biden administration officials have warned they’d be blind to information they may need to act on in real time.
Rep. Andy Biggs (R-Ariz.) dismissed those arguments Tuesday.
“The narrative from some on the other side is if you have warrants, if you require a warrant for a query, you will kill law enforcement and you will be responsible for dastardly deeds,” he said.
The Judiciary bill Biggs helped champion included various exceptions to the warrant requirement, which would be carried out by the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court (FISC).
“I strongly disagree that a requirement for FISC approval of U.S. person queries would amount to a de facto ban, and what’s a FISC approval? It’s a court order,” he said.
The press conference showed the rivalry between the Judiciary and Intelligence members is still raw, with many of the 10 members who spoke airing frustration with Speaker Mike Johnson (R-La.) and blaming him for favoring the Intelligence product.
Several Republicans have been pushing for a queen-of-the-hill-style amendment process — an approach first floated by Johnson — through which the full House would get to weigh in on the controversial provisions.
Freedom Caucus members echoed that call for an amendment process to the bill, one that would allow them to raise the warrant requirement as well as another provision that would bar the U.S. government from buying information from data brokers.
“As we go forward, I’m requesting that the Speaker take his base bill, the leadership base bill and allow us to have a rational amendment process where we can do things like ask for warrants, see if our colleagues want to have warrants,” Biggs said.
The House Rules Committee is set to take up the bill Wednesday afternoon before it will be considered later this week.
The warrant requirement is not just favored by the right wing of the GOP, with the Judiciary bill passing with strong bipartisan support.
“This reform effort is not your traditional fight that you guys are used to covering where it’s Republicans versus Democrats,” Rep. Warren Davidson (R-Ohio) said, pointing to other Judiciary co-sponsors including Rep. Pramila Jayapal (D-Wash.), the head of the Congressional Progressive Caucus, and House Judiciary ranking member Jerrold Nadler (D-N.Y.).
“You have a left and right coalition against the center that wants to keep spying on American citizens.”