House Committee Works To Limit Federal Spy Powers

The House Judiciary Committee has released new legislation to reform Section 702 of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, the government’s primary electronic surveillance law.

The proposed changes involve limitations on accessing communications and mandating the FBI to secure a warrant before searching Americans’ identities in the database. The bill suggests a significant change to Section 702. This section permits the intelligence community to collect emails and other electronic communications from non-Americans outside the country.

The current law allows the government to intercept and search Americans’ communications. The new bill aims to address this issue by mandating a warrant for the government to utilize a U.S. person’s identity for a data search. It would also limit the individuals in the FBI who can conduct searches and give more oversight tools to the secret court in charge of monitoring the law. Violations of Section 702 may lead to a maximum prison sentence of eight years.

The bill includes the Fourth Amendment is Not for Sale Act, which stops law enforcement and intelligence agencies from gathering personal data about subscribers of electronic and remote computing service providers from a third party.

Lawmakers are working to meet a deadline at the end of the year. If Section 702 is not renewed by then, it will expire. Intelligence community officials claim they will lose surveillance on individuals involved in illegal activities abroad, including terrorists, fentanyl smuggling cartels, and aggressive Chinese maneuvers.

The changes are motivated by recent disclosures that the FBI utilized FISA authority to probe individuals apprehended during Black Lives Matter protests in 2020 and to obtain information on numerous donors to a congressional campaign. The FBI also used FISA to investigate potential foreign influence concerning the Capitol riots on Jan. 6, 2021.

Rep. Darin LaHood, a Republican from Illinois and member of the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence has proposed a plan to restrict the number of FBI personnel authorized to query a U.S. person.

Most lawmakers on Capitol Hill seem to believe there is a need for some changes, but there are varying opinions.