Bipartisan Legislative Efforts To Revise FISA Moving Ahead

A recent report showed that government agents had accessed a database containing phone calls of American citizens more than 270,000 times without first securing a warrant. A loophole in the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act allows the FBI to conduct warrantless database searches. Now, Republicans and Democrats in the Intel and Judicial Committees are coming together to revise the law to provide better safeguards and improve transparency.

House Judicial Committee member Jim Jordan (R-OH) is leading the effort to revise the 1978 law that set guidelines for how the government can use its surveillance powers to gather information. Following the terrorist attacks on September 11, 2001, the law was revised and limitations on how law enforcement and investigators could share information were removed.

“There needs to be more transparency, more accountability, more audits and reporting to Congress and to the American people,” Jordan said on “Just the News, No Noise” Friday. “So I think we have broad agreement there that those kind of fundamental changes have to happen.”

Jordan added that he and Judicial Committee members are of the consensus that a warrant should be required for any government surveillance operation aimed at American citizens and said the Committee is working toward revising FISA Section 702 to restrict access to the database.

Rep. Andy Biggs (R-AZ) said that he has been working for several months with Democrats and Republicans to identify the best ways to modify FISA as part of a larger effort to revise the PATRIOT Act and foresees a major change happening before the end of the year.

“I think we’ve reached a lot of harmony on a lot of ideas. The last issue probably is just how we solve some of these issues where the FBI, NSA, CIA…want to go in and look at phone records and other private data points,” Biggs said. “And that’s where we’re going to solve those…I think we’re going to smooth it out, and hopefully be able to get something done before the end of the year. I believe we will.”

The Patriot Act was created in response to 9/11 and had a sunset clause that would have ended the law in 2015. Congress extended authorization of the act which eventually ended in 2020. However, agencies that were granted powers under the act continue to operate with those powers. Congress is now tasked with revising the law to ensure that agencies are not able to abuse their powers and inappropriately gather information on innocent American citizens as was shown to be the case in the recent report of spying by the FBI on non-criminal citizens.