Written by Hudson Crozier
What’s happening: A bipartisan bill in the House and Senate would greatly limit the federal government’s ability to surveil Americans. President Joe Biden’s administration rushed to condemn the legislation as “unprecedented” and “detrimental” to national security.
The debate: The Biden administration wants Congress to renew Section 270 of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA), a 9/11-era measure set to expire in December. However, a coalition of Republicans and Democrats want to gut Section 270’s power by now requiring judicial warrants for most surveillance activities.
- Other reforms: The bill would also require warrants to use phone-tracking technology or to buy personal data from private companies. It would also be easier to sue the government for wrongful searches or surveillance and to punish federal spooks who abuse government databases of private information.
Why it matters: The vast spying bureaucracy that emerged after the 9/11 attacks — originally meant to address foreign enemies — has been used on Americans, raising concerns across the aisle.
- Partisan abuse: The FBI famously skirted FISA rules to spy on former President Donald Trump’s 2016 campaign. And the Biden administration has illegally surveilled thousands of Trump supporters, though it insists its spying powers are to counter foreign threats.
- Recent history: Recall Biden’s Justice Department has labeled parents who voice their concern about their kid’s education as possible domestic terrorists, and one FBI office even investigated Catholics who worship in Latin and take their faith seriously.
- What can they see? The intelligence community can already obtain private messages and emails or purchase sensitive online data without warrants. Even then, courts frequently cite the government for violating its own surveillance rules, lawmakers have noted.