Speaker Johnson excludes 'clean' reauthorization of controversial FISA surveillance program from defense spending bill, sets stage for reform bills

 December 6, 2023

A highly controversial government surveillance program is set to expire at the end of the year and some members of Congress attempted to quietly slip the program's reauthorization as an amendment into a must-pass military spending bill.

House Speaker Mike Johnson (R-LA) said not so fast, however, and reportedly tabled that amendment and excluded it, at least for the time being, from the National Defense Authorization Act for next year, according to Breitbart.

The controversial program in question is known as Section 702 of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, which allows for warrantless searches and wiretaps and is ostensibly aimed only at foreigners but was previously revealed to have been broadly abused by federal agents to target American citizens.

FISA Section 702 reauthorization won't be included in NDAA bill

Tuesday afternoon, as the House considered various amendments to the military funding bill, Punchbowl News reporter Jake Sherman wrote on social media that Speaker Johnson "has nixed an extension of FISA authority as part of the NDAA."

What Johnson "nixed" was a "clean" reauthorization of FISA Section 702 devoid of any sort of reforms and, in doing so, set the stage for members to consider two competing pieces of legislation that would only partially reauthorize the program for a short period while also imposing a variety of bipartisan-demanded reform measures.

Rep. Warren Davidson (R-OH), who fully supports reforming the FISA program, told Breitbart, "Keeping FISA out of the NDAA is a victory for the American people who demand the end of warrantless government surveillance. I applaud Speaker Johnson’s decision to not cave to the Biden admin, [FBI Director] Christopher Wray, and the entire intel community."

Competing House bills to reform FISA program

As for the two competing pieces of House legislation to reform and reauthorize FISA Section 702, Politico reported that one has been pushed by House Judiciary Committee Chairman Jim Jordan (R-OH) while the other is backed by House Intelligence Committee Chairman Mike Turner (R-OH).

Jordan's bill is arguably the stricter of the two in that it would require federal agents to first obtain a warrant for most searches of the Section 702 database while Turner's bill would only impose a warrant requirement for "crime"-related searches.

Both bills are reportedly otherwise largely in agreement on other reforms, such as imposing new auditing and reporting requirements, penalties for agents who violate the rules to misuse the program, alterations to the secretive FISA court that approves the searches, and even limiting which government agents are permitted to use the program.

Politico noted that Speaker Johnson, having excluded the FISA reauthorization from the NDAA, is now said to be planning to bring both competing House reform bills to the floor for a procedural vote in the near future.

Senate also working on FISA reform measure

Meanwhile, as House Republicans -- with some Democratic support -- fight over which FISA Section 702 reform bill to run with, Punchbowl News reported that a bipartisan group of both progressive and conservative senators led by Sen. Ron Wyden (D-OR) -- joined by Sen. Mike Lee (R-UT) -- are hashing out their own legislation to reform and reauthorize the controversial surveillance program.

Details are sparse on exactly what the Senate bill would do, but Wyden said in a statement, "We’re going the distance with reform. Business as usual is not going to be acceptable."

The Oregon senator, long a critic of secretive government surveillance of American citizens, added, "When I started, it was pretty lonely. You could have meetings about 702 reform operations in a couple of phone booths. And I’m looking around now and I’m seeing a lot of allies."

It is unclear when these different pieces of legislation will receive votes or even if they'll pass, but all of the reporting outlets noted that the clock is ticking as the FISA Section 702 program, which does have legitimate uses for keeping an eye on foreign spies and terrorists, will expire at the end of the year unless reauthorized -- with or without the necessary reforms.

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