House Expands Spying Powers Through 2023

McClatchy Washington Bureau
Thursday, January 11, 2018

Washington — A debate about the scope of government spying ricocheted around Washington on Thursday, with seesaw presidential tweets and impassioned debate on Capitol Hill that culminated with a House vote to extend and expand massive U.S. surveillance powers.

The vote pitted supporters who say the spying powers have kept the homeland safe from terrorism and opponents who see the spying as a threat to the privacy of Americans.

Lawmakers voted 256-164 to extend surveillance powers for six more years, giving a major victory to President Donald Trump. In an earlier vote, lawmakers turned down a move to put limits on warrantless spying that critics say has swept up emails, photos and text messages of an untold number of U.S. citizens.

The Senate now faces a deadline to vote by Jan. 19, when formal surveillance authorities expire after a temporary extension in late December.

The ample margin of victory in the House made passage in the Senate more likely.

The issue brought together the bipartisan leadership of the House to thwart a bid by libertarian-leaning Republicans and privacy advocates among Democrats to put sharp restrictions on the surveillance authorities under an expiring statute, known as Section 702 of the FISA Amendments Act.

At its core, the authority is a global surveillance program that the intelligence community says is crucial to keeping the nation safe from terrorist attack.

In rejecting a move to put limits on the program via an amendment, House leaders cast the issue in stark national security terms.

“You pass this amendment, we are flying blind in our fight against terrorists,” Speaker Paul Ryan, a Wisconsin Republican, said. “The consequences are really high.”

“This chamber cannot be complicit in letting terrorists fly under the radar,” said Rep. Bob Goodlatte, a Virginia Republican who is chairman of the House Judiciary Committee.

Those seeking new restrictions said they sought to put the “foreign” back in the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act and keep the eyes of the intelligence agencies from wondering onto the communications of Americans who are inadvertently swept up.

“We are collecting vast amounts — we can’t go into the numbers here in open session — vast amounts of data. It’s not metadata. It’s content. It’s the content of your phone calls, the content of your emails, content of your text messages, video messages,” said Rep. Zoe Lofgren, a California Democrat.

Early in the debate, the ranking member of the House Intelligence Committee, Rep. Adam Schiff, called for the vote to be delayed, saying two early-morning tweets by Trump raised the profile of the issue but also confused matters.

In a 7:33 a.m. tweet, Trump suggested that the FISA reauthorization, which his White House forcefully supported in a statement hours earlier, was linked to the dossier that alleges his campaign was supported by Russia.

“This is the act that may have been used, with the help of the discredited and phony Dossier, to so badly surveil and abuse the Trump Campaign by the previous administration and others?” Trump asked.

The ranking member on the Senate Intelligence Committee, Mark Warner, responded to Trump with his own tweet: “This is irresponsible, untrue, and frankly it endangers our national security. FISA is something the President should have known about long before he turned on Fox this morning.”