They say politics makes strange bedfellows, which is never truer than when it comes to privacy issues.
A bi-partisan group of 34 lawmakers and liberal activist groups are calling for a standalone bill to reauthorize Section 702 of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA), which is at the center of the controversy surrounding the investigation by Special Counsel Robert Mueller. There is concern among the groups that FISA reauthorization will sneak into year-end spending bills required to avoid a government shutdown.
A group of 28 Republican and 6 Democratic lawmakers, led by Republican Rep. Justin Amash, are demanding reauthorization of FISA be “a standalone bill,” according to a letter sent to congressional leadership on the issue. And they’re threatening to block any extension of government funding past the end of the year should FISA extension be part of any funding bills.
“We are fast approaching the law’s expiration date,” the letter reads, and lawmakers worry, “There may be temptation to attach reauthorization of the FISA Amendments Act to a large end-of-year legislative package, but doing so would undermine representative democracy by effectively precluding most members of Congress from being heard on the important issues it raises and preventing the public from finding out where their representatives stand.”
The coalition of groups, led by the American Civil Liberties Union, warn the reauthorization effort reported by the House Intelligence Committee currently before Congress expands the government’s surveillance powers over American citizens. In a letter to Congress, the groups said the reauthorization bill “Expands existing surveillance authorities under FISA, which permit targeting of Americans and foreigners, both domestically and internationally.”
It is unclear what legislative language reauthorizing the program will be attached to appropriations bills, and if this version is attached, privacy advocates worry that the government’s authority for wiretapping will be expanded, not reformed.
Section 702 of FISA, which is reported to have played a role in the downfall of General Michael Flynn, who was President Donald Trump’s first National Security Advisor, is in need of reform, not expansion according to these groups. “Under Section 702 collection, U.S. citizens who interact with foreign targets—sometimes inadvertently—could see their communications swept up,” according to The Hill.
The signers of the letter are threatening to vote against any year-end funding bills or continuing resolutions that contain FISA reauthorization, which could lead to a government shutdown.
“The House exists to debate the very sorts of issues raised by the FISA Amendments Act, and we insist on the opportunity to do so,” the lawmakers wrote.
Note: This post has been updated to reflect the party affiliation of the Congressional letter’s signatories.