Congress Aims To Extend Warrantless Surveillance Through Funding Bill

Rep. Devin Nunes, California 22nd district

Rep. Devin Nunes’ new H.R. 4478 bill meant to both reauthorize the mass surveillance programs enabled by Section 702 of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA), as well as expand those surveillance powers, was put on hold yesterday due to increasing pressure from constituents who wanted to see real surveillance reform instead.

As the FISA 702 reauthorization failed, Nunes and others are looking to push a 19-day extension of the law through the “must-pass” funding bill for next year, so they can try to pass the FISA 702 reauthorization early next year.

Nunes’ Warrantless Surveillance Bill (H.R. 4478)

Less than a month ago, Rep. Devin Nunes, from the 22nd Congressional district of California, introduced a new surveillance bill in the House to match a similar bill from Sen. Richard Burr, the co-author (along with Sen. Dianne Feinstein) of a previous anti-encryption bill. Nunes’ bill expanded the definition of a “foreign target” to allow intelligence agencies to spy on even more people at once, including Americans.

Whether intentionally or inadvertently, the bill also seemed to target privacy tools such as Tor or the Tor-enabled TAILS operating system. The bill would also make warrants “optional” for intelligence and law enforcement agencies, which would essentially nullify the Fourth Amendment of the Constitution.

As the EFF pointed out when the bill was introduced, having to obtain a warrant before spying on an American is not an “option” for the government - it’s mandated by the most fundamental law in the country: the Constitution.

Nunes Aims To Extend NSA Spying Through Funding Bill

Nunes and other backers of the surveillance bill tried to have a vote in Congress yesterday, but it seems many representatives, as well as Senators, signaled that they would not only vote against the bill but that they would filibuster it:

As FISA 702 is supposed to expire by the end of the year, Nunes and other backers of the bill are now trying to push for a 19-day extension to the NSA spying. The EFF noted in a recent tweet that this is also evidence that the surveillance bill backers don’t have enough support to push for a long-term expansion of NSA’s powers.

Sen. Burr’s similar Senate bill aimed to extend the 702 section of FISA by eight years. Initially, the same surveillance programs had to be renewed after four years, and then with Sen. Feinstein’s help, the 702 section was extended by five years.

Sen. Burr and Rep. Nunes seem to want to extend Fisa 702 by at least eight years, and potentially more in the future. At the same time as extending the renewal period, Congresspersons such as Rep. Nunes keep expanding the scope of the bill to include warrantless domestic spying against Americans via the FISA law.

The EFF believes that actions such as calling your Congressperson are having a tangible effect in making surveillance backers second guess themselves. The calls also give those who want real surveillance reform the confidence to keep fighting against the expansion of NSA’s power on the House and Senate floors.

Lucian Armasu
Lucian Armasu is a Contributing Writer for Tom's Hardware US. He covers software news and the issues surrounding privacy and security.
  • InvalidError
    Manafort probably isn't the only person in Trump's entourage to have had undisclosed foreign contacts with FISA targets. It would be funny to see FISA play a bigger role in Trump and his cronies' downfalls.
  • shrapnel_indie
    If someone really challenged this, and they didn't randomly apply original intent, I think this would be found unconstitutional. Outside of that, this is just another example of taking something unpopular and attaching it to something important. If it fails because it was turned down because of the surveillance, its supporters would scream about the budget bill being killed and the consequences of that. If it passes, we got another extension on unconstitutional spying by the feds on everyone. Yeah, yeah... no worries if you got nothing to hide... but do you want them really watching your every move? Even during intimate activities?
  • Wisecracker
    Senator Richard Burr ...
    Stop Burying the CIA Detention and Torture Report

    Apparently, Americans can't run away from multiple, invasive Section 702 FISA 'hops' but Richard Burr and his chums can run away from torture exerting 'pain equivalent to organ failure or death.'

  • alan_rave
    I hope the opposition is strong enough.