House Rejects Proposal to Limit Warrantless Surveillance Searches

The House has given the boot to a controversial proposal aimed at putting the kibosh on warrantless surveillance searches by the federal government, delivering a smackdown to hardcore Republicans who wanted to include the proposal in the broader national surveillance law set to expire next week.

In a nail-biting 212-212 vote on Friday, the amendment narrowly missed the mark, falling short of the majority needed to be included in the surveillance law. This is a win for the no-nonsense conservatives who have been fighting to have the amendment in the reauthorization of Section 702 of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, even threatening to torpedo the whole surveillance law if it didn’t make the cut.

The vote went down to the wire on Friday, with members scrambling on the floor to make sure their votes were counted. Just before the vote was passed, lawmakers were seen hollering on the floor to keep the vote open as long as possible.

The amendment, brought to the table by Rep. Andy Biggs (R-AZ), would have made it a must for the federal government to get a warrant before digging through data searches of U.S. communications in the FISA 702 database. The measure does include exceptions for “immediate threats to life or bodily harm, consent searches, or known cybersecurity threat signatures.”

The requirement for a warrant has been a major bone of contention in the FISA reauthorization debate as lawmakers on both sides have been at odds over whether the measure should be embraced.

Some Republicans insisted on putting the brakes on federal searches, accusing the FBI of abusing the tool to snoop on certain U.S. citizens. This demand became even more pronounced on Wednesday when former President Donald Trump came out against the FISA reauthorization, claiming it was abused to spy on his presidential campaign in 2020.

The amendment had support from both Democrats and Republicans but couldn’t drum up the majority needed to pass, with several lawmakers arguing it would hamper the federal government’s efforts to thwart criminal activity and mess with national security.

“If you just read the front page of [the bill], it clearly says that it is about the intelligence that’s gathered from foreigners abroad. This is not about Americans’ data. Americans’ data are safe, constitutionally protected,” Rep. Mike Turner (R-OH) said. “Americans’ constitutional rights are preserved in the Constitution. This amendment undermines our security by giving Americans’ constitutional rights here in the United States to foreign adversaries.”

By dumping the amendment, the chances of passing the FISA reauthorization have improved, as Democrats would have likely objected to the basic legislation if it included the warrant requirements. Even if it had made the cut and passed both the House and Senate, the White House came out against the amendment on Thursday night, casting doubt on whether President Joe Biden would have signed it into law.

Written by Staff Reports

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