A high-stakes U.S. surveillance battle is about to reach a behind-the-scenes deal

Especially Johnson Previously voted yes The bill would significantly reform the 702 program and provide a range of privacy protections.

Although not common There is bipartisan support for reforming Section 702, and sources familiar with the negotiations say pro-privacy amendments have historically died in backroom deals. amendment A proposal last summer to ban the U.S. military from tracking Americans’ cellphones without a warrant was killed in a closed-door session in the House of Representatives despite winning broad support. The other amendment, however, did little to interfere in the federal government’s domestic affairs. surveillance efforts — also won House support two years ago. But even that half-measure ultimately found itself in trouble after negotiations were moved to a room open to neither the public nor the media.

The effectiveness of the latest round of pro-privacy bipartisanship has surprised many in the national security establishment. A year ago, resistance to reauthorizing surveillance was expected to be weak, congressional sources said. Even its biggest critics acknowledge that the 702 program could be critical to U.S. defense and critical to investigating terrorist threats, espionage, and the continued proliferation of cyberattacks against U.S. companies and national infrastructure.

On the contrary, in the autumn of 2023, the continuation of the program under current conditions does encounter serious challenges. Coupled with the sudden emergence of the House Speaker battle in October, the smooth reauthorization of Section 702 has become a distant fantasy. The House’s efforts to find common ground ultimately collapsed, leaving only two distinct factions — one who believed the FBI should apply for search warrants before obtaining U.S. phone calls, text messages and emails intercepted by U.S. spies; A search warrant goes too far. Become a burden to investigators.

From that point on, the compromises were best described as “rounding errors.” Lawmakers opposed to the warrant agreed in December that the FBI should obtain one before obtaining 702 pieces of data in an investigation that lacked a foreign component. Only a fraction of the Americans the bureau asks each year fall into this category — less than 1%, according to some civil liberties experts.

Article 702 The program was last extended in December until April, when certifications issued by the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court expired and U.S. companies no longer had to cooperate with intelligence community wiretapping requests. Some experts predict that the intelligence community may begin applying for new certifications as early as next month, allowing surveillance to continue uninterrupted for a year without action from Congress.

This is often a last resort for conspiracy leaders to prevent privacy-enhancing bills from reaching the ballot—even if the result is a surveillance program suddenly without congressional approval. Letting a plan expire is often preferable to allowing a vote. This can happen if there is a risk of unnecessary restrictions being written into law.

Expired surveillance programs can find ways to continue. For example, U.S. legislation twice introduced bills last year that would have banned FBI surveillance technology, making it technically illegal four years after Congress failed to reauthorize Section 215, the package of surveillance tools provided by the FBI. . Patriot Act legislation in the 9/11 era.

House leaders (then Democrats) faced similar popular opposition to continued 215 surveillance if they maintained the status quo. Rather than risk a vote that could end the program permanently, it would be better to just let the program die. Since then, the FBI has continued to exploit its advantage year after year, “grandparents” in a series of new cases.

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