Republican working group releases proposed reforms for federal FISA surveillance tool

Section 702 of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) must be reauthorized and reformed by the end of the year to safeguard privacy, according to a new report released by the Majority FISA Working Group of the U.S. House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence (HPSCI).

HPSCI and the House Judiciary Committee (HJC) earlier this year formed a FISA Joint Working Group to consider reform proposals, and HPSCI Chairman Michael Turner (R-OH) and HJC Chairman Jim Jordan (R-OH) assigned members of their respective committees to form the Joint Working Group. In addition to Rep. Turner, HPSCI’s representatives are U.S. Rep. Darin LaHood (R-IL), Brian Fitzpatrick (R-PA), and now retired U.S. Rep. Chris Stewart (R-UT).

The proposed renewal of FISA’s Section 702, which allows spy agencies to collect emails and other communications, is expected to form the foundation of a legislative package that Rep. Turner wants to see approved before Section 702 expires at the end of the year.

“We believe that before the end of the year, we will have a significant package of reforms that will be unprecedented, and at the same time, we will have the renewal of 702,” Rep. Turner told reporters on Nov. 16 in releasing the report.

Specifically, Section 702 allows U.S. officials to collect without a warrant the communications of targeted foreigners who are outside the country and suspected of posing a national security threat, according to the report, entitled “FISA Reauthorization: How America’s Most Critical National Security Tool Must Be Reformed to Continue to Save American Lives and Liberty.” Under the section, the federal government also collects the communications of American citizens and others in the U.S. when they’re in contact with those targeted foreigners, the report says.

Over the last year, FISA has been scrutinized following a surveillance court opinion released in July that determined the FBI improperly searched Section 702 databases for certain information.

“At a time when the FBI director is claiming that we have the largest threat to national security … it would be incredibly dangerous and detrimental for us to either allow 702 to expire or to saddle it in a way that it’s unusable,” said Rep. Turner during last week’s press conference.

“There have been too many abuses of the program, and it must be reformed to protect the rights and privacy of American citizens,” Rep. LaHood said in a statement, adding that the report outlines the important reforms needed in order to responsibly reauthorize FISA before the end of the year. 

“In the wake of the Hamas terrorist attacks, our nation faces the greatest threat of terror in nearly a decade,” said Rep. LaHood, who served as chair of the Joint Working Group. “Allowing this critical national security tool to expire would put our country at greater risk.”

According to the working group, the report includes 45 FISA reform proposals that go beyond Section 702 to make meaningful changes to all of FISA.

Of those, 19 provisions would stop FBI querying abuses by, for example, requiring the FBI to obtain a warrant to conduct a query on an American for evidence of a crime.

Other reform provisions would increase penalties, provide greater transparency and reporting, ensure compliance, improve the application quality and process, and provide greater congressional oversight of FISC, among others.

Provisions are also included that would reflect Congress’s opportunity to address political and national security concerns, such as by enhancing the ability of the National Security Agency to target international fentanyl trafficking operations, according to the 73-page report.

“I look forward to working with my colleagues to implement the necessary reforms outlined in our report to get this important national security tool reauthorized,” said Rep. LaHood.