A bicameral and bipartisan group of lawmakers is threatening to block legislation in the House that would extend a controversial spying program.
Michigan Republican Rep. Justin Amash, joined by Senators Ron Wyden (D-Oregon), Rand Paul (R-Kentucky) and roughly a dozen other Republicans and Democrats from both chambers of Congress railed against Section 702 of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) on Wednesday.
The provision allows the National Security Agency (NSA) to gather intelligence on foreign nationals outside the U.S. Things like emails, phone calls, text messages, photos, etc. can be collected and shared with other intelligence agencies in order to thwarts threats against the U.S.
U.S. citizens are supposed to be excluded from the intelligence gathering, but Circa reported earlier this year that thousands of Americans were accidentally swept up in the intelligence. This usually happens when the NSA intercepts communications between foreign persons and U.S. citizens.
The law is set to expire on January 19, prompting the House and Senate Intelligence committees to introduce new legislation to extend the program.
First up for a vote is the House Intelligence Committee's bill, which would extend the FISA program for six years and does require intelligence officials to obtain a warrant to seize American's data, but only after they're opened a criminal investigation, unrelated to national security, into the individual.
In other words, the bill would still allow intelligence agencies to collect American's data until they delve into a criminal investigation, at which point they would need a warrant.
Paul and other privacy advocates say that's unacceptable.
"The reform bill out of the committee in the House, it’s actually worse than existing law," Paul told reporters on Wednesday. "In one way it actually codifies that [intelligence agencies] can use this information on domestic crime [to prosecute Americans]. This information is gathered at a less than Constitutional standard."
Paul said a six-year extension was far too long and said he would filibuster any bill that does not include a requirement for intelligence agencies to obtain a warrant before seizing data on Americans in any circumstance.
Sen. Wyden called the bill out of the intelligence committees "fake reform."
"They made a little change here and a little change there, but they are business as usual proposals," he said.
Amash has introduced a substitute bill that would require intelligence officials to get a warrant before seizing American's data. Wyden and Paul have a companion bill in the Senate.
The House will vote Thursday on the bill with Amash's amendment, if it fails, then they will vote on the original text of the House Intelligence bill.
GOP leaders support the intelligence bill but a growing number of lawmakers have signed on to Amash's amendment, including the ultra conservative House Freedom Caucus.
It takes 217 votes to pass the bill in the House.
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