Written by Hudson Crozier
What’s happening: Congress is intensely debating whether to renew government surveillance powers under Section 702 of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) before they expire this month. House Speaker Mike Johnson (R-LA) has repeatedly flip-flopped on the issue and delayed two bills that would reform FISA until next year.
- The challenge: Lawmakers across the aisle want changes to Section 702. But President Joe Biden hasn’t signaled support for any proposed restrictions and his administration has criticized them.
Why it matters: Politicians used 9/11 to justify these unprecedented spying powers, but the U.S. government has grown comfortable with a history of abuse and surveilling countless Americans. The GOP has an opportunity to break the status quo of an unaccountable federal bureaucracy — a growing priority for conservatives.
What Section 702 does: Federal agents may access private communications of Americans without a warrant — including phone calls, text messages, and emails — if they claim it’s part of an investigation into foreign threats. The government saves what it gathers over time on massive databases.
Rampant abuse: A court found last year that the FBI used FISA databases to investigate political protesters, donors, politicians, and a judge who criticized law enforcement, all without meeting legal requirements for these warrantless searches. The public cannot know how often the government breaks the law because FISA court cases are usually classified.
What’s next: House committees are considering a bill that would expand Section 702’s powers and another that would limit them. The full House will vote today on whether to renew them through April with no changes.