House of Representatives Okays Extension of Surveillance Act

The U.S. House of Representatives voted 278 to 136 for the USA FREEDOM Reauthorization Act of 2020, to extend provisions of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA). This legislation established rules for surveillance and information collection “between foreign powers or agents of foreign powers suspected of espionage or terrorism.” Although the House is led by Democrats, the vote was bipartisan, with 152 Democrats and 226 Republicans approving the act. The measure will now go to the Senate, on recess next week.

Reuters reports that Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and Intelligence Committee chair Richard Burr stated they “strongly support” the bill, and other Republicans said, “they are inclined to support it because Attorney General William Barr, a strong supporter of President Donald Trump, helped to craft the bill.”

The bill offers a tweak with regard to privacy, setting “new restrictions to  the FISA court system, which oversees requests for surveillance warrants.” Representative Adam Schiff (D-California), House Intelligence Committee chair, also supports the bill, saying it “provides greater transparency and increased oversight of the system, without compromising counterterrorism efforts.”

“The three expiring provisions that this bill would re-authorize are vitally important to protecting national security,” he said.

Representative Jim Jordan (R-Ohio), “seen as one of Trump’s strongest defenders in Congress,” also encouraged a vote to pass the bill. Those opposing the bill are privacy advocates “including liberal Democrats and libertarian-leaning Republicans.” Senator Mike Lee (R-Utah), for example, said he would “do all he could to block the bill’s passage.”

Engadget reports that the bill in question would “bring changes to FISA wiretaps in response to the backlash the feds got for wiretapping former Trump campaign adviser Carter Page during the Russia investigation.” The bill would also “prohibit the government for using FISA business records to collect information that typically requires a search warrants, such as phone location data.”

In another change, “the penalties for misusing FISA would also be harsher and would raise prison sentences for using electronic surveillance improperly from five to eight years.”

Related:
Senate Fails to Approve Renewal of Domestic-Surveillance Powers, The Wall Street Journal, 3/12/20