House Renews Warrantless Spying on Americans

FBI agent using a laptop
FBI agent using a laptop | Image by domoyega/Getty Images

House lawmakers voted on Friday to reauthorize the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act following an adjustment meant to make the measure more palatable to some Republicans who have balked at continuing the warrantless surveillance of American citizens.

However, the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA), which sets out how the government gathers foreign intelligence, was passed without altering Section 702, which allows the warrantless use of information obtained from Americans while ostensibly targeting a foreign entity.

Lawmakers passed the bill renewing FISA 273-147 after its backers reduced the extension from five years to two, The Hill reported. The move was designed to appease enough concerned lawmakers, who had previously blocked the bill in a bid to reform or remove Section 702.

Minutes before the bill passed, some Republicans narrowly failed to add an amendment requiring a warrant if the government wanted to view any information collected on Americans through Section 702. The amendment’s failure drove a further wedge between Republican lawmakers on both sides of the issue.

One wing of the party has argued that Section 702 has been abused too many times for what they consider “political persecution” of Americans with the “wrong” political beliefs. It recently came to light that the FBI had improperly used the information gathered on domestic persons almost 300,000 times, including against January 6 Capitol protesters and Black Lives Matter activists, as reported by Zero Hedge.

However, the other side appears to have won out since any version of the bill that has a chance to pass must go through the Senate, which is controlled by Democrats and is much more sympathetic to the arguments of the FBI and, of course, President Joe Biden, a staunch backer of FISA’s spy powers. The FBI has asserted that warrantless use of the information should be left unimpeded on national security grounds.

Still, many Republicans critical of government overreach reacted to the passage by accusing House Speaker Mike Johnson (R-LA) of betraying the party.

That was the position of Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY), who took to X over the weekend to excoriate the speaker: “[Speaker Johnson] was incredibly wrong to vote w/ Dems against the 4th amend. when he killed the FISA warrant requirement and wrong to give in to the Dems spending demands. As I see it now, I’m not so sure there’s a difference between him being in charge and Dems being in charge.”

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