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No Warrantless Surveillance 'Nonsense' in FISA Reauthorization Bill, Bipartisan Lawmakers Vow

fisa reauthorization news conference

WASHINGTON – In a rare display of bipartisanship on Capitol Hill, a group of lawmakers from both parties are pushing for passage of an amendment to the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) reauthorization bill that would require intelligence agencies to obtain a warrant for surveillance of American citizens.

Rep. Justin Amash (R-Mich.) was optimistic about passage of his amendment as the FISA Amendments Reauthorization Act of 2017 headed to the House floor for debate.

“We’ve added a lot of co-sponsors over the last several days. We feel like we have a great opportunity … to pass this amendment on the House floor to make a difference for the American people – to stand up for the Constitution. And our amendment stands for the simple proposition that when you want to spy on Americans, get a warrant,” Amash said during a press conference Wednesday on Capitol Hill.

Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.), a member of the Senate Intelligence Committee, said the existing versions of the House and Senate bills “allow for substantial warrantless backdoor searches of communications of law abiding Americans” under Section 702 of FISA.

“What this essentially means is every year, thousands of times you have the government search for the communications of Americans in [Section] 702 databases, and we think this is an end-run on the Constitution. We understand there are threats overseas, foreign targets, people we have to be concerned about to protect the safety of the American people – but what we are against is, without a warrant, having the communications of law-abiding Americans swept up in that process,” he said.

Wyden told reporters “there is a lot of nonsense being circulated by opponents of the House efforts” to pass a warrant requirement, including that FISA reformers want new rights for suspected terrorists or that they do not want to prosecute criminals.

“I can tell you, I’ve been on the intelligence committee for 17 years, the government has never said, never once said it needed 702 for typical crimes,” Wyden said.

Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) said because of recent accusations of bias directed at the Justice Department and the FBI there needs to be “more oversight of the intelligence community” because “men are not angels,” a reference to a quote from James Madison.

“We allow information to be gathered on foreigners in foreign lands without the Constitution. Most of us are OK with that. The Constitution really isn’t guaranteed to everyone around the world, it’s guaranteed to us here,” he said. “When you gather information from foreigners in foreign lands without the Constitution, that information is not gathered with constitutional protections and should never be used against Americans – this a bedrock principle of our country. It’s what brings Republicans and Democrats together.”