Controversial Surveillance Tool’s Renewal Faces Uncertainty Amid GOP Infighting

( – Amid an ongoing debate in Congress about a controversial surveillance tool used by the US government’s intelligence apparatus, House Republicans have pushed the decision on its renewal into next year as a widespread disagreement between lawmakers remains unresolved.

The surveillance legislation in question is found in the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) under Section 702, which was implemented to prevent terrorist attacks on the US and its allies. Section 702 permits the federal government to spy on communications from specific foreign nationals who are outside the country without a warrant, even if the other party those nationals are corresponding with is an American citizen on US soil. Critics of the legislation argue it’s unconstitutional and accuse the government of using its powers to spy on American citizens without a warrant.

Without any action from Congress to renew Section 702, it is set to expire at the end of the year. The House initially planned to vote on two competing proposals for the renewal of FISA. One proposal was put forth by the House Intelligence Committee, which only seeks to make minor changes to the law. The other was presented by the House Judiciary Committee and is substantially more restrictive in its revisions. Whichever plan gained the most support was supposed to be sent to the Senate.

The Judiciary Committee’s plan was nicknamed “queen of the hill” and resulted from both progressive and conservative representatives raising concerns about including an extension of the program in the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA), which is renewed annually. After the House Republican conference on December 11 to discuss FISA, the plan fell apart.

Republican Rep. Darrell Issa of California told reporters after the closed-door GOP conference that it’s “not an appropriate time” for such a proposal, arguing that the Judiciary Committee’s bill should be taken up by the House considering the committee’s influence over the Patriot Act that established Section 702. Issa said the current NDAA asks for an extension until April, giving the House time over the holidays and “into early January to work out” the details of the proposals.

Intelligence Committee member Rep. Mike Garcia, another California Republican, argues that although reforms are necessary, the Judiciary Committee’s bill consists of restrictions on Section 702 that would leave the country more vulnerable to terrorist threats from foreign nationals.

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