The House of Representatives reached a bipartisan agreement on Wednesday to approve the controversial FISA extension, after hammering out a set of amendments to make it less dangerous. It still faces a tough last minute struggle because Senators aren’t convinced the reforms go far enough.
House passes FISA extension with reforms
Reports out of Capitol Hill are sketchy but it appears that the reforms included were substantial enough to please the most skeptical members of Congress on both sides of the aisle. What isn’t immediately clear is the fate of a provision to add a legal representative to represent the accused, so that the proceedings won’t stay “ex parte,” meaning, “one-sided.”
An initial look at the available information shows that they did not try to push a “clean” reauthorization. Instead they fought hard for a compromise. The deep state keeps their power tools but the privacy watchdogs get more power over the way they are used. The Senate may not be impressed.
Republican Jim Jordan has been one of the most outspoken critics of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act abuse. He urges a “yes” vote. Jordan acknowledges “the surveillance system had flaws, but the bill’s reforms were significant.” He calls it “a darn good first step.”
Democrat Zoe Lofgren isn’t thrilled. She introduced a slew of reforms that made everyone happy except Jerrold Nadler and Adam Schiff. They were so terrified by what she wanted that they yanked the bill away from the markup committee. “It’s not real reform,” she warns. Andy Biggs, Pramila Jayapal and Mark Pocan agree. They all voted no.
The reforms that did get included
Attorney General William Barr was happy to see “that the bill contains a number of provisions Director Wray and I put forward to address past failures, including compliance failures that the Inspector General has identified for us in his recent audit work. The IG’s analysis and recommendations have helped shape our proposals.”
The reauthorization includes “a ban on the collection of GPS and cell phone site location data,” along with “a five-year limitation for the government to retain most of the materials it collects.” The government has to tell you before they use anything they collect. “the bill requires the government to notify individuals if it plans to use information collected under Section 215 against them.”
Another improvement is the removal of the National Security Agency’s bulk phone collection data program. It was already shelved last year. Jim Jordan was pleased that his suggestion was taken, “requiring the attorney general to sign off on FISA applications dealing with elected officials and federal candidates and allowing independent monitors to review FISA applications.”
From now on, it will be “a crime to lie to the FISA court.” It was always the crime of “perjury” but now it will have special penalties. The intelligence committees in both the House and Senate can also “review FISA applications and materials.”
Stiff headwinds in the Senate
Senator Rand Paul still isn’t convinced. He let the provisions expire once before and isn’t afraid to do it again. “The ‘Deal’ on FISA is weak sauce diluted & made impotent by A.G. Barr,” Paul tapped out on Twitter. “None of the reforms prevent secret FISA court from abusing the rights of Americans. None of the reforms prevent a President of either party from a politically motivated investigation.”
Utah Republican Senator Mike Lee doesn’t like what he saw either. “The House FISA deal doesn’t fix what’s wrong with FISA. I will do everything I can to oppose it in the Senate. If it passes, @realDonaldTrump should veto it.”