Congress really wants the FBI to be able to spy on anyone

In its everlasting bid to betray the people who elected them, Congress is engaged in a bitter fight over whether or not the federal government can spy on people without a warrant.

The object of this latest congressional feud is Section 702 of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, or FISA, which, on paper, allows federal law enforcement, especially the FBI, to conduct surveillance through massive data collections on foreigners who may pose a threat to the United States.

The current fight over FISA is whether or not these data collections, which are conducted purely for national security purposes and not for law enforcement purposes, should be significantly reformed, including by implementing a warrant requirement. The rationale for reform is that FISA has been systematically abused to query the names of innocent U.S. citizens against the database — citizens, that is to say, who are not supposed to be surveilled under the law.

On Wednesday, a group of Republican lawmakers voted down a procedural motion that would have begun consideration on an extension for FISA that does not include the reforms that are needed. For their part, the lawmakers who support the no-strings-attached FISA extension are claiming that to let it expire or to implement a warrant requirement would severely jeopardize national security.

Now lawmakers from both parties are looking for alternative pathways to reauthorize this sweeping program and are questionably claiming that FISA abuses have been almost entirely eliminated after the last reauthorization in 2018. Tellingly, the bill under consideration expressly exempts members of Congress from this data collection.

The problem is that FISA abuses are still occurring. A FISA court ruling from April 2022 recorded that there were more than 278,000 “non-compliant FBI queries of raw FISA-acquired information” in the years preceding that date. While the FBI says it has dramatically reduced noncompliant queries since then, why would we take their word for it?

Why, when previous warrantless data searches have been used against people donating to a congressional campaign and people involved in the Jan. 6, 2021, protest and riot at the Capitol? According to the American Civil Liberties Union, FISA queries were also made into “the communications of protesters from across the ideological spectrum.” In other words, the FBI is still using FISA to spy on U.S. citizens. There is an argument that these unwarranted queries are unconstitutional.

Again, this is not a tool that is supposed to be used against U.S. citizens. By law, it is only to be used against foreigners on foreign soil. Yet despite their rampant abuse of this tool, the FBI claims that to end it or now require a warrant for U.S. person searches would have a catastrophic impact on national security.

While the group of Republicans who sank the procedural vote on Wednesday may have delayed the FISA reauthorization by a few days, there are still an awful lot of lawmakers who have bought into the intelligence community’s spurious claims. They have no qualms about reauthorizing the program without considering the constitutional rights of the people who elected them.

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Instead of defending the rights of their constituents, lawmakers are exempting themselves from a law that they know will be abused by the FBI. They are accepting the FBI’s claims even as the bureau has made no credible attempt to repair the damage its prior FISA abuses have done to its credibility.

This is yet another example of Congress serving the interests of a swamp over service to the people.

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