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House Passes Bill Renewing Key Surveillance Tool

State Rep. Terri Collins speaks on the House floor during debate over SB159 bill (IVF Fertility Bill) in the House Chambers, Wednesday, March 6, 2024, in Montgomery, Ala. (AP Photo/ Butch Dill)

A bill aimed at renewing a crucial federal government surveillance tool has successfully passed the House of Representatives, setting the stage for a Senate vote just days before its expiration deadline.

The legislation focuses on reforming Section 702 of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA), which permits the government to conduct surveillance on foreigners abroad with suspected terror ties without the need for a warrant. This section allows the FBI to monitor communications of specific foreign targets, even if American individuals are involved on the other end of the communication.

The bill faced a significant challenge earlier in the week when a group of 19 conservative privacy advocates blocked the House GOP's initial attempt to pass it. However, a modified version of the bill managed to overcome a procedural hurdle on Thursday, paving the way for its eventual passage.

The debate surrounding the renewal of Section 702 has sparked a contentious discussion between privacy and national security advocates within the political sphere. While proponents argue that the tool is essential for preventing large-scale attacks akin to 9/11, critics from both conservative and progressive camps have raised concerns about potential abuses and the need to limit its scope.

One key point of contention was an amendment proposed by the House Judiciary Committee that would have required a warrant to access Americans' data collected under Section 702. The amendment failed to pass by a narrow margin, with some opponents arguing that it could impede the intelligence community's ability to swiftly identify and address major threats.

The bill, known as the Reforming Intelligence and Securing America (RISA) Act, represents a compromise effort between the House Judiciary and Intelligence committees to restrict access to collected communications and establish penalties for data misuse. However, some conservative lawmakers expressed dissatisfaction with the bill, citing concerns about insufficient protections for Americans' data.

Former President Donald Trump also weighed in on the debate, urging for the rejection of the RISA bill and emphasizing the need to address privacy issues. In response to conservative objections, House GOP leaders have promised a separate vote on an additional amendment proposed by Rep. Warren Davidson, which would require warrants for the government to obtain Americans' data from third parties.

Overall, the modified legislation not only renews Section 702 but also shortens the reauthorization period from five years to two years, allowing for potential revisions under the next administration. The bill's passage in the House sets the stage for further deliberations in the Senate, where its fate remains uncertain.

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