In the two months since certain portions of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) expired, lawmakers have been unable to reach a bicameral and bipartisan agreement on necessary changes to its authorization of federal surveillance tools.
Although various amendments have been proposed and even added to the act in both the U.S. House of Representatives and Senate, the most recent version was deemed unacceptable by Attorney General William Barr. The Justice Department revealed this week that he opposed the reauthorization effort “in its current form” and would recommend a presidential veto if it passes, the Washington Examiner reported.
Terrorists and spies
Prior to FISA’s expiration in March, Barr had engaged in negotiations with members of the House, reaching an agreement on reforms designed to provide additional oversight and curb potential abuses through the use of approved surveillance tactics. When the bill reached the upper chamber, however, senators made additions with which both Barr and the House disagreed.
Following a two-month stalemate during which the authorizations had lapsed, the effort resumed, although Barr now says he does not approve of the changes being pushed in the House. As a result, he is urging President Donald Trump to veto the bill if it reaches his desk.
The Examiner cites three main provisions at issue, including “roving wiretaps” that allow suspects to be tracked even after changing phone numbers, a “lone wolf” amendment that permits surveillance of individuals suspected of having terrorist ties, and a “business record” provision that allows for the review of financial records potentially linked to terrorist plots.
Assistant Attorney General Stephen Boyd released a statement on Wednesday explaining that the Department of Justice had determined changes put forward in the Senate “would unacceptably impair our ability to pursue terrorists and spies.”
In response, he said the department “proposed specific fixes” before the legislation went back to the House.
“Instead of addressing those issues, the House is now poised to further amend the legislation in a manner that will weaken national security tools while doing nothing to address the abuses identified by the DOJ Inspector General,” Boyd continued.
Fighting the bill
The Justice Department now stands in opposition to both “the Senate-passed bill in its current form” and the changes proposed in the House.
“Given the cumulative negative effect of these legislative changes on the Department’s ability to identify and track terrorists and spies, the Department must oppose the legislation now under consideration in the House,” Boyd wrote. “If passed, the Attorney General would recommend that the President veto the legislation.”
As NPR reported, Trump has weighed in on the matter as well. He tweeted on Tuesday that House Republicans should vote against the current FISA reauthorization bill, following up the next day with a tweet indicating that he would veto the bill if it passed as-is.
It remains to be seen if Congress will be able to find some room for agreement on this bill. As the Justice Department made clear, however, these provisions could have extensive real-world implications as the U.S. continues to track foreign spies, terrorists, and other international criminals.