Biden Admin Quietly Asks Court To Extend Warrantless Spying On Americans Without Congress Approval

(Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)

Reagan Reese White House Correspondent
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President Joe Biden’s administration quietly asked a court Wednesday to extend its warrantless surveillance program until April 2025 without Congressional approval, the New York Times first reported.

Section 702 of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) was set to expire in December of 2023 until Congress voted to push off re-authorizing the law until April. Under the law the government has the authorization to gather foreigners’ communications, even if they were talking about or with Americans, who have been targeted in relation to intelligence matters. (RELATED: ‘Scare Tactics’: FBI Warrantless Surveillance Renewal Was Unnecessary For Stopping Terrorism, Experts Say)

The decision to submit the renewal to the court is “consistent” with the administration’s “standard annual practice,” Matthew G. Olsen, the Assistant Attorney General for National Security, told the NYT.

A month before the act is set to expire, the measure requires the executive branch to ask the court to renew the program, the NYT reported.

Despite the Biden administration’s request to the court, Olsen told the NYT that his department was still focused on working with Congress to reauthorize the law before its expiration deadline.

“It is our responsibility,” Olsen told the NYT, adding that it is the administration’s duty to seek reauthorization “to avoid a dangerous gap in collection and to protect the nation’s security.”

 U.S. President Joe Biden speaks briefly with reporters before boarding the Marine One presidential helicopter and departing the White House on February 29, 2024 in Washington, DC. In the throes of a re-election campaign, Biden is traveling to Brownsville, Texas, near the U.S.-Mexico border on the same day that Republican rival and former President Donald Trump is scheduled to visit the border. (Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)

U.S. President Joe Biden speaks briefly with reporters before boarding the Marine One presidential helicopter and departing the White House on February 29, 2024 in Washington, DC. (Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)

Congressional leaders were notified of the Biden administration’s request, a Justice Department (DOJ) official told the NYT. The petition to the court would extend the surveillance program for a full year, the official told the outlet, even if the underlying law is allowed to sunset.

More than 30 civil liberties groups, including the Brennan Center for Justice, American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) and Demand Progress petitioned to congressional leaders following the Wednesday report.

“In its current form, this authority is dangerous to our liberties and our democracy, and it should not be renewed for any length of time without robust debate, an opportunity for amendment, and — ultimately — far-reaching reforms,” the letter states. “Bypassing this process by slipping an extension of the law into a must-pass funding bill would demonstrate a blatant disregard for the civil liberties and civil rights of the American people.”

The fight over FISA renewal has united both progressives and conservatives concerned about warrantless spying on Americans against the administration, which argues the program is a vital national security tool. Former President Donald Trump and his allies have railed against FISA courts since the government used Section 702 to surveil his 2016 presidential campaign, an investigation that stemmed from the now-discredited Steele Dossier.

The DOJ admitted in 2020 that federal law enforcement improperly utilized FISA to spy on the Trump campaign in 2016, according to the conservative Heritage Foundation.

Still, 147 House Republicans voted to approve of extending FISA as part of the National Defense Authorization Act in December. “What’s being stated is it is impossible to oppose the National Defense Authorization Act because we put a pay raise in it or because we put something in there that is seemingly so important that we have to ignore the critical destruction of our civil liberties by adding FISA extension right on the top of it without doing the forms necessary to protect the American people,” Republican Texas Rep. Chip Roy, who voted against the extension, said at the time.

Republican Utah Sen. Mike Lee tweeted Wednesday that the “Deep State’s doing what I’ve warned of for months” by trying to sneak through a FISA extension without Congressional approval.

The legal adviser to the National Security Council at the White House, Joshua Geltzer echoed Olsen’s sentiments, calling the move by the administration “business as usual” to the NYT. Geltzer promised that the administration will work with Congress on the extension of the act.

“Congress acted in December to extend Section 702, which maintained this critical authority for intelligence collection,” Geltzer told the NYT. “The executive branch is now acting on that, in the usual way, at the usual time in the reauthorization cycle. To do anything else would an anomaly and indeed an abdication of our responsibility to use the law Congress extended for the protection of Americans.”