Congress Moves to Stop Government From Getting More Power To Spy On People

( With the expiration of a contentious monitoring program this year, Congress and the Biden administration are not seeing eye to eye. 

On Tuesday, the Justice Department and the intelligence community officially started their renewal attempt, but Congress all too cheerfully knocked down the trial balloon, anticipating a months-long debate that might stretch right up to the Dec. 31 deadline.  

The administration will face opposition not just from Republicans in Congress but also from some of their party members, the Democrats, who are concerned that there aren’t enough safeguards to prevent the program from going off the tracks. The Justice Department will also require the support of the Republican-controlled House, where many of the members responsible for monitoring the program are also heading a broad inquiry into potential political reasons inside the Department of Justice and the Federal Bureau of Investigation.  

Rep. Jim Jordan (R-Ohio) has said that he would not vote to prolong the program without modifications, and several Republicans in the House have even broached the idea of letting the monitoring authorization expire. 

A newly disclosed assessment on the use of Section 702 between December 2019 and May 2020 has increased the pressure on the Biden administration to extend this provision of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA).  

Two members of Jordan’s panel, Republican Andy Biggs of Arizona and Democrat Pramila Jayapal of Washington took to the floor to express their displeasure with a tidbit buried in the report’s footnotes: an FBI intelligence analyst had queried surveillance databases using only the name of a member of Congress.  

The current government recognizes the magnitude of the task at hand and is receptive to suggestions for improvement, but it has drawn the line at any reform that would fundamentally alter the authority’s mandate. Backdoor searches and other proposed changes to the program by privacy activists have been met with resistance from the Biden administration. 

Privacy activists think they are in a position of maximum influence, even though the administration has friends in Congress, including Senate leadership and members of the House and Senate Intelligence Committees. Despite the administration’s best efforts, legislators are unlikely to keep their attention just on Section 702 after a series of high-profile investigations by DOJ Inspector General Michael Horowitz identified “widespread” non-compliance by the department.