Lawmakers on both sides of the aisle, particularly in the GOP, are pushing back against the renewal of a law authorizing a tool used by US spy agencies, in the post 9/11 era, to conduct warrantless surveillance on foreign targets and Americans with whom they may be interacting.
The New York Times has excoriated these conservatives for no longer being staunch supporters of the mass surveillance state.
Congressional leaders in both parties have warned the White House that the law which legalizes this unconstitutional surveillance of American citizens, Section 702, will not be renewed absent significant changes. For instance, such reforms would prohibit federal agents from obtaining phone, email, and other electronic communications records of Americans interfacing with targeted foreign individuals.
“There’s no way we’re going to be for reauthorizing that in its current form – no possible way,” declared Rep. Jim Jordan (R-OH), adding “we’re concerned about surveillance, period.”
Congress ostensibly granted the spy agencies this authority by creating Section 702 of the FISA Amendments Act in 2008. Since then, it has been renewed twice with strong GOP backing. But for years, this law has faced opposition from Democrats over similar contemporary conservative concerns that it grossly violates Americans’ civil liberties.
The expiration date on the law is coming up in December, but growing animosity toward the spy bureaucracies’ abuse of power has led to a surge of resistance on the Republican side as well.
“You couldn’t waterboard me into voting to reauthorize 702,” insisted Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-FL) who supported the program’s reauthorization five years ago. The Congressman cited instances of the spy powers being used to infringe on the rights of political dissidents on both the left and right. “These 702 authorities were abused against people in Washington on January 6 and they were abused against people who were affiliated with the BLM movement, and I’m equally aggrieved by both of those things,” Gaetz said.
Despite nominal reforms in the past, the 2018 renewal enhanced the ability of the intelligence agencies to carry out its massive surveillance of Americans. As the Electronic Frontier Foundation explains,
The bill that was most recently passed, S. 139, endorses nearly all warrantless searches of databases containing Americans’ communications collected under Section 702. It allows for the restarting of “about” collection, an invasive type of surveillance that the [National Security Agency] ended in 2017 after being criticized by the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court for privacy violations. And it includes a six-year sunset, delaying Congress’ best opportunity to debate the limits [of] NSA surveillance.
In order to gain the favor of Republicans who favor a more bellicose policy against Beijing, supporters of the sweeping powers to spy on Americans are hoping to shift the conversation to China.
In the Asia-Pacific, more than a decade ago, Barack Obama’s administration launched the largest military buildup since the Second World War eyeing a future war with Beijing. While Donald Trump substantially expanded the encirclement of China during his term, Joe Biden and his government have been vastly more aggressive than their predecessors.
This White House has doubled down on preparations for conflict and concurrently ramped up its economic war against China. However, many Republicans see Biden as weak and agitate for a more confrontational posture. With this in mind, National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan has implored this surveillance capability is “crucial” to counter China, as well as other supposed national security threats like Russia. The Biden team is busy making this case with lawmakers.
This strategy may not be successful, according to the Times, the Republicans in the opposition camp have “seized on official determinations that federal agents botched a wiretap on a Trump campaign adviser and more recent disclosures that FBI analysts improperly used Section 702 to search for information about hundreds of Americans who came under scrutiny in connection with the Jan. 6 attack and the Black Lives Matter protests after the 2020 murder of George Floyd by a police officer.”
Even some typically jingoist Democrats in the House are reluctant to go along with the administration. “We’ve been very clear with the administration that there is not going to be a clean reauthorization – there’s no path to that,” said Rep. Jason Crow (D-CO). The ardent Russia hawk elaborated that there should be requirements for warrants in some situations and there must be limits on when agents query their databases for information regarding American citizens.
Rep. Chris Stewart (R-UT) says some GOP members may accept the reauthorization if there are “deep reforms,” although he said emphatically that there will “still be a number who are just never going to authorize this.”