Amendment to End Warrantless Surveillance Moves to House floor

A bill to reauthorize the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act is moving to the House floor for a final vote, likely to take place by Thursday, and an amendment to end warrantless surveillance will be considered by the full House of Representatives.

The “Reforming Intelligence and Securing America Act” would extend Section 702 of FISA for 5 years, which “permits the government to conduct targeted surveillance of foreign persons located outside the United States,” according to the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI).

Progressive Democrats and conservative Republicans have teamed up in an effort to include a warrant requirement in the FISA renewal bill. Some members have said they would oppose a bill to reauthorize FISA without a provision to end warrantless surveillance.

The Brennan Center for Justice and other organizations wrote a letter on April 5 urging lawmakers to vote in favor of amendments to the bill that will require a warrant.

Rep. Andy Biggs, R-Ariz., former chairman of the conservative House Freedom Caucus, and Rep. Pramila Jayapal, D-Wash., chair of the Congressional Progressive Caucus, are part of a bipartisan group of lawmakers who sponsored amendments to the FISA reauthorization bill related to the Fourth Amendment, which prohibits the federal government from conducting “unreasonable searches and seizures.” One of those amendments to the bill includes requiring law enforcement to obtain a warrant before executing a “U.S. person query” for foreign intelligence collection under Section 702 of FISA. The current law has no such requirement.

On Tuesday evening, the House Rules Committee voted in favor of the bipartisan amendment that would prohibit “warrantless searches of U.S. person communications in the FISA 702 database, with exceptions for imminent threats to life or bodily harm, consent searches, or known cybersecurity threat signatures.” The amendment heads to the House floor for consideration in the legislation.

FBI Director Chris Wray has argued that a warrant requirement would “endanger national security.” Supporters of such a requirement argue that warrantless surveillance under FISA is unconstitutional.

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