House votes to reauthorize FISA

House votes to reauthorize FISA

After three failed attempts and what could only be described as a circus-like debate, the House finally managed to vote on Friday, approving a contentious program that gives US spooks carte blanche to eavesdrop without a warrant. The bill passed with a tally of 273–147, despite being about as popular as a migraine.

Section 702 of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, which was about to turn into a pumpkin on April 19th, got a lifeline from the FISA court allowing it to stay the execution without Congress saying boo.

The wrangling over amendments unearthed some strange bedfellows, with progressives and the far-right Freedom Caucus cosying up to push a failed amendment for a warrant requirement to spy on Americans, deadlocked at 212–212.

Speaker Mike Johnson (R-LA) must feel like he's herding cats, especially after former President Trump blasted into the conversation with his "KILL FISA" tirade on Truth Social, still nursing grudges about alleged spying on his campaign.

Meanwhile, on Wednesday, the House stamped a big fat "no" on even debating the FISA bill, marking yet another faceplant for the beleaguered speaker. This version, a bit of a legislative Frankenstein, included random jabs at the Biden administration's immigration policies and took a swing at pressures on Israel regarding Gaza. Nineteen Republicans defected, standing with the Dems against it. In a desperate bid to pull his party's hardliners on board, Johnson trotted out a new version that offered FISA a shorter, two-year leash instead of five.

"We just handed Trump a bat," gloated Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-FL), thrilled that Trump might get a chance to tinker with the very system he claims did him dirty.

Despite the concession, the rebels demanded—and got—a vote on a bipartisan amendment for a warrant before snooping on Americans' data.

“Are we really debating whether spies should need a warrant to snoop on Americans?” exclaimed Rep. Keith Self (R-TX) on the floor, as if he’d just discovered the concept of privacy. Rep Sheila Jackson Lee (D-TX) condemned Section 702 as a tool for domestic espionage, while Rep. Jeff Van Drew (R-NJ) claimed it had led to millions of sketchy searches, from exes to journalists.

The national security brigade waved the flag of fear, claiming the warrant amendment would blind us to threats from the likes of Hezbollah and the Chinese Communist Party.

Despite the spirited debate, the amendment for warrant requirements scraped the barrel and failed 212-212.

On the brighter side for the hawks, other amendments sailed through, including one demanding the FBI report how many Americans it's spying on, and another by Rep. Dan Crenshaw (R-TX) sharpening the definition of foreign intelligence to better target drug traffickers—seemingly the only bipartisan issue in Congress.

The CIA's Bill Burns piped up, insisting that Section 702 is crucial for disrupting fentanyl flows into the US—because apparently, everything needs a dash of the war on drugs.

Kia Hamadanchy of the ACLU was less impressed, seeing the bill as less reform and more "let's spy more!" He warned that expanding the definition of foreign intelligence is like giving the government a bigger, sneakier net.

The Senate still has to cast its votes before the April 19th deadline, with Sen. Ron Wyden (D-OR) already sharpening his knives. He painted a dystopian picture where anyone who so much as touches tech could be strong-armed into government surveillance, with nary a peep allowed about it.

So, strap in—it looks like this surveillance saga is set for a few more reruns before anyone calls "cut!"