Fifty-four House lawmakers, Democrat and Republican, conservative and progressive, called on House Speaker Mike Johnson Wednesday not to extend a controversial deep state surveillance law in a defense bill.
Reps. Warren Davidson (R-OH) and Zoe Lofgren (D-CA), two skeptics of government surveillance, spearheaded the letter, which comes weeks before the year-end deadline of Section 702 of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA).
Section 702 is a law that allows intelligence agencies to collect communications of targeted foreigners. It also may lead to targeted surveillance of Americans’ private communications, which privacy advocates consider a run around the Fourth Amendment’s requirement for a warrant to search Americans’ communications. The law will expire at the end of 2023.
The 54 House lawmakers said in no uncertain terms that Speaker Mike Johnson (R-LA), House Minority Leader Hakeem Jeffries (D-NY), Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY), and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) should not pursue a reauthorization of Section 702, temporary or otherwise, in the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA).
“If Section 702 is to be reauthorized for even a single day, it must be through standalone legislation subject to robust, open debate and amendment,” the lawmakers wrote in their letter.
“Under no circumstance should Congress fully reauthorize Section 702 of FISA as an attachment to the NDAA. Under Section 702, U.S. Intelligence agencies conduct mass warrantless surveillance on American citizens,” Davidson said in a written statement, “and a clean reauthorization or extension only continues this abuse. Congress must allow opportunity for open debate, amendments, and reform prior to any reauthorization of this legislation.”
“I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again: it would be unwise and dangerous for Members of Congress to greenlight another major surveillance reauthorization without carefully considering and enacting robust reforms. That includes through the NDAA process,” Lofgren said.
Rep. Andy Biggs (R-AZ) wrote:
Reauthorization of this spying authority cannot be tied to a massive piece of ‘must-pass’ legislation like the NDAA. This would be an affront to the American people—who have voiced their strong disapproval of Section 702—and to the integrity of the legislative process. The Judiciary Committee is on the cusp of marking up a standalone FISA reform bill and I urge my colleagues to support its reforms. I am thankful for Rep. Davidson and Rep. Lofgren’s leadership on this important issue.
Rep. Pramila Jayapal (D-WA), the chair of the Congressional Progressive Caucus (CPC), said in a written statement:
The privacy of Americans should be of the utmost importance to our government, and yet, we have seen too many examples of unchecked, warrantless surveillance of Americans. An overhaul is necessary to protect Americans’ Fourth Amendment rights and their sensitive, personal data. Section 702 reauthorization should be subject to strong scrutiny and debate and cannot be included in larger, must-pass legislation. Congress must work to stop the government from warrantlessly spying on Americans.
The congressional letter comes on the heels of a Breitbart News report noting that Johnson’s office refused to confirm Rep. Matt Gaetz’s (R-FL) claim that there will be no reauthorization of Section 702 in the NDAA. Gaetz also said the legislation would be tackled in a single-subject bill.
Despite the Speaker’s office’s refusal to confirm the likely move to try to temporarily extend Section 702 in the NDAA, Politico and Punchbowl News have reported that lawmakers and aides involved in the process see a temporary extension of Section 702 as a necessary move.
WATCH — Jim Jordan: There are 204k Reasons to Oppose FISA ReauthorizationHouse Committee on the Judiciary / YouTube
Watch — Rep. Andy Biggs: CDC Purchased $420k Worth of Data to Surveil Americans During the Coronavirus PandemicU.S. House of Representatives
However, as Breitbart News reported, a temporary extension of Section 702 may remove any leverage for the privacy-oriented to enable reform in the bill, as even a temporary extension would in effect grant a one-year certification of the program. American officials believed this was the case during the 2017 FISA reauthorization fight.
Biggs wrote on Tuesday, “The FISA 702 spying authority reauthorization should not be crammed into NDAA legislation. Instead, it ought to be placed in a standalone bill that requires Members to debate and amend it. No more circumventing.”
The FISA 702 spying authority reauthorization should not be crammed into NDAA legislation.
Instead, it ought to be placed in a standalone bill that requires Members to debate and amend it.
No more circumventing.
— Rep Andy Biggs (@RepAndyBiggsAZ) November 28, 2023
Sean Moran is a policy reporter for Breitbart News. Follow him on Twitter @SeanMoran3.