Photographer: PAUL J. RICHARDS/AFP/Getty Images

House Begins Bipartisan Push for New Limits on Surveillance Law

Updated on
  • Bipartisan House members to introduce legislation Thursday
  • Measure may pit lawmakers against Trump administration

Republican and Democratic leaders of the House Judiciary Committee plan to propose new restrictions on law enforcement’s access to information collected by the National Security Agency, likely setting off a fight with the Trump administration.

The measure, to be introduced Friday, would revise a surveillance law set to expire at the end of the year. The White House has sought to renew it without new limits.

At issue is Section 702 of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, which dates to former President George W. Bush’s terrorist surveillance program. It sets procedures for collecting surveillance involving non-Americans overseas. Internet service providers and telephone companies can be compelled to cooperate.

Critics from both parties say the program collects information about Americans who communicated with the targets of surveillance, resulting in the government gathering information about citizens who are constitutionally protected from warrantless searches. 

Lawmakers, led by Judiciary Chairman Bob Goodlatte of Virginia and the panel’s top Democrat, John Conyers of Michigan, are seeking changes that they say will better safeguard Americans’ civil liberties.

Criminal Prosecution

The bill would bar the government from using material collected under Section 702 to advance a criminal prosecution without first obtaining a court warrant. It contains exceptions for emergencies and when Americans have granted consent, and it doesn’t apply to routine intelligence analysis.

“The program must be reauthorized with reforms," Goodlatte told reporters on Thursday.

Representative Sheila Jackson Lee, a Texas Democrat who serves on the Judiciary Committee, said the changes would protect “civil liberties Americans hold so dear.”

House Intelligence Chairman Devin Nunes, a California Republican, said he’s working with sponsors of the legislation. He said the draft version of the legislation will likely change as more lawmakers provide input.

The legislation would extend Section 702, with the revisions, for six years.

The American Civil Liberties Union said the legislation doesn’t provide enough protection.

“While the bill contains positive provisions that are an improvement over current practice, it falls short of what is needed to protect individuals from warrantless government surveillance under Section 702,” said Neema Singh Guliani, legislative counsel for the group, in a statement.

— With assistance by Terrence Dopp

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