Key GOP lawmaker calls for renewal of surveillance tool as he proposes changes to protect privacy

WASHINGTON — The Republican chairman of the House Intelligence Committee on Thursday called for a renewal of a key U.S. government surveillance tool as he proposed a series of changes aimed at protecting privacy.

Rep. Mike Turner’s proposals are part of a late battle within Congress and the White House to secure the reauthorization of Section 702 of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, which allows spy agencies to collect emails and other communications. They emerged from a congressional working group and are expected to form the basis of a legislative package that Turner hopes can be passed before Section 702 expires at the end of this year.

“We believe that before the end of the year we will have a significant package of reforms that will be unprecedented, and at the same time we will have the extension of 702,” Turner told reporters.

The section of law in question allows U.S. officials to collect without a warrant the communications of targeted foreign nationals who are outside the country and suspected of posing a threat to national security. The government also records the communications of U.S. citizens and others in the U.S. when they come into contact with the targeted foreigners.

The program has come under scrutiny over the past year following revelations that FBI analysts improperly searched its intelligence database, including for information on people involved in the January 6, 2021, riot at the U.S. Capitol and the racial justice protests of 2020.

The changes described by Turner are intended to increase penalties for such abuses, including by allowing Congress to mandate a mandatory inspector general investigation into alleged violations, and to tighten restrictions on inquiries, especially on questions that are politically sensitive. He also called for allowing only a limited group of FBI supervisors and lawyers to authorize inquiries from people inside the U.S.

Much of the debate so far has focused on whether US officials should be required to obtain a warrant before gaining access to intelligence about people in the US.

A bill introduced last week by Democratic Sen. Ron Wyden and other lawmakers included a warrant requirement. However, the White House has said such a proposal would cross a “red line,” and FBI Director Christopher Wray told lawmakers at a hearing Wednesday that a warrant mandate would be legally unnecessary and hamper vital investigations at a time of crisis. increasing terrorism threats.

“At a time when the FBI director claims we pose the greatest threat to national security… it would be incredibly dangerous and harmful to us to allow 702 to expire or saddle it in a way that renders it unusable” , Turner said. said.

Turner said his proposal would only require a warrant if the database query seeks evidence of a specific crime — but not for national security-related searches.

Additional legislative proposals are expected. When asked Thursday about the status of negotiations with Rep. Jim Jordan, the Republican chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, Turner said Jordan had indicated he planned to introduce another proposal.