Intelligence Community Will Temporarily Lose Some Surveillance Powers

WASHINGTON, D.C. — After the terrorist attacks nearly twenty years ago on 9/11, Congress gave the intelligence community sweeping powers lawmakers have since sought to scale back.

“Warrant, due process, probable cause, these are all things that are guaranteed as rights for all Americans in the constitution and none of those can be guaranteed without transparency,” Rep. Thomas Massie said on the House floor Wednesday.

Republicans, Massie and Senator Rand Paul have been vocal critics of the Patriot Act’s surveillance provisions, including one that allows the FBI to get court orders through the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court to collect business records on suspects in national security investigations. Members from both parties have also taken issue with the roving wiretap provision that permits surveillance on suspects even after they’ve changed phones. And a third measure that allows the FBI to surveil suspects even if they have no known ties to international terrorism.

“I feel like there have been massive abuses of the FISA program. I’m concerned about the government infringing upon our civil liberties,” said Rep. James Comer.

Comer says he’s concerned about the overreach of the intelligence community but ultimately voted in favor of a House bill to reauthorize the programs after a briefing from fellow Republican Congressman Jim Jordan. The House bill includes new privacy protections and gets rid of the phone metadata program.

“It makes changes, it doesn’t go as far as we want but it’s an improvement. If we don’t pass anything, the current FISA law will be automatically renewed,” he said.

With the Senate gone for the weekend, the surveillance powers will temporarily expire Sunday.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell is backing the effort but President Trump, who has long been critical of the intelligence community, has not given reauthorization his support.  

The FBI Agents Association called the anticipated authorization lapse unacceptable and dangerous.