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Johnson Launches Latest Surveillance Battle with a Warning

House Speaker Johnson
House Speaker Johnson

In the ongoing debate over Section 702 of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA), Speaker Mike Johnson has issued a warning to his colleagues regarding potential consequences if they fail to reach an agreement.

Johnson’s cautionary message highlights the looming possibility of being overtaken by the Senate if the House cannot come to a consensus on the matter. The legislation, which targets surveillance of foreigners outside the United States but has raised concerns due to its potential to ensnare American citizens, is set for a vote in the House next week.

The House’s ability to pass the bill remains uncertain, given internal conflicts among Republicans and the narrow margin within the chamber. Johnson’s letter emphasizes the critical nature of reaching an agreement before the April 19 deadline for reauthorizing the surveillance authority. Failure to do so could result in the Senate imposing a “clean” extension of the spy power, leaving the House with limited options.

The bill introduced by House Republicans closely mirrors a previous proposal from February, aiming to extend the program while implementing changes to enhance oversight and transparency. However, a notable change in the new bill is the apparent removal of a section concerning reports to Congress related to commercially available data. This modification follows previous disagreements within the Intelligence Committee regarding unrelated provisions added to the bill, causing delays in the legislative process.

House Speaker Johnson

House Speaker Johnson (Credits: POLITICO)

Johnson’s letter does not directly address this change, but he plans to hold meetings with members to discuss the bill further. Certain factions within the Republican Party have prioritized including amendments, such as restrictions on data brokers selling consumer information to law enforcement, which could influence the bill’s reception among lawmakers.

Apart from internal Republican dynamics, external pressures from privacy advocates and the intelligence community add complexity to the debate. A proposal requiring a warrant before searching data collected under Section 702 for information related to Americans is expected to spark contention. While supported by a bipartisan coalition, opponents argue that such a requirement would undermine the effectiveness of the surveillance program.

As the legislative process unfolds, various interest groups are closely monitoring developments and advocating for their positions. The inclusion of certain amendments, such as expanded surveillance of immigrants applying for visas or asylum, has drawn criticism from advocacy organizations concerned about privacy and due process rights.

The upcoming vote on the Section 702 reauthorization bill represents a critical juncture in the ongoing debate over surveillance powers. Balancing national security interests with privacy rights and oversight mechanisms remains a complex challenge for lawmakers as they navigate competing priorities and external pressures.

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