Republican Makes Rare Move That Blindsides Democrats

OPINION:  This article contains commentary which may reflect the author’s opinion

Congress has been thrown a procedural curveball by a Republican congressman. Reauthorization of Section 702 of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, a vital U.S. surveillance program for national security, was approved by the House on Friday by a vote of 273-147. The program now moves to the Senate for approval. It allows the government to obtain electronic communications from non-Americans abroad without obtaining a warrant. The program will run until 2026 thanks to the reauthorization.

The Act was supported by 147 Democrats and 126 Republicans in a fairly nonpartisan vote. The renewal comes after 19 conservative legislators stopped the first effort on the floor, demanding greater privacy protections.

Both political parties and civil liberties organizations have criticized Section 702 for its potential to result in the unintentional gathering of information about American citizens interacting with foreign targets. Only a few days before the successful vote on the measure as a whole, an amendment that would have needed a warrant for more kinds of monitoring was narrowly rejected in a 212-212 vote.

But the bill can’t head straight to the Senate because of a procedural obstacle raised by Florida Republican Anna Paulina Luna (R-FL). In what is thought to be an uncommon attempt at delay, the motion calls for a second vote in order to discharge the bill to the Senate. There is a deadline of around one and a half weeks away for the Senate to align with the House in order to guarantee the uninterrupted continuation of these monitoring activities.

Federal law in the US was passed in 1978 and is known as FISA. It lays up protocols for “foreign powers” and “agents of foreign powers” who are suspected of terrorism or espionage to exchange “foreign intelligence information” via electronic and physical monitoring. The legislation was enacted in reaction to information surfacing regarding widespread surveillance of US people by the federal government, mostly carried out by the FBI and NSA in the 1960s and 1970s.

FISA was created to safeguard against any power abuses and to offer a legal framework and oversight for surveillance operations. It established the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court (FISC), a unique federal court in the United States tasked with examining and granting applications for surveillance warrants against suspected foreign agents operating domestically.

FISA has undergone numerous amendments over the years. Most notably, the USA PATRIOT Act, passed in the wake of the September 11, 2001 attacks, and the FISA Amendments Act of 2008 added provisions allowing the government to obtain foreign nationals’ overseas data without obtaining a warrant. This includes Section 702, which is frequently brought up in relation to U.S. surveillance activities. These changes increased the NSA’s authority to gather data without a judge’s approval, sparking important discussions about civil liberties and privacy.

There has been some debate concerning the bill. House Speaker Mike Johnson (R-LA) suffered a blow on Wednesday when a few House Republicans killed the move to put his proposed FISA reauthorization up for a vote. Two days earlier, 19 Republicans sided with Democrats to overturn the regulation by a vote of 228 to 193.

Republicans who oppose the bill argue that it does not go far enough in addressing the multiple instances of illegal surveillance that the CIA and FBI have conducted. Intelligence officers have been exposed illegally spying on Republican lawmakers, January 6 protestors, and members of the Trump campaign in 2016 by utilizing FISA surveillance, which is intended for monitoring foreign nationals.

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