FISA: Senate Passes Measure Extending Surveillance Powers, Abuses Not Addressed

While U.S. news has been dominated by coverage of the coronavirus, the Senate passed a 77-day extension of surveillance authorities Monday. Those authorities – under the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act – lapsed over the weekend. However, the passage of the FISA extension has been disputed by numerous lawmakers, who are concerned that nothing has been done to stop the abuses that were exposed by Congress and the DOJ’s Inspector General’s report.That report, along with other investigations, revealed that senior FBI officials abused FISA court to spy on members of President Donald Trump’s 2016 campaign.

The bills passage extended the surveillance powers until May, allowing lawmakers to address the growing concern over coronavirus, which has taken precedence on Capitol Hill. However, others say the passage of the extension fails to address serious concerns over Constitutional violations that have yet to be addressed or rectified by the law.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, said prior to agreeing to a vote on the extension that there would be a limited debate on three amendments that will be determined at a later session.

Some lawmakers suggest it’s a big mistake.

Rep. Andy Biggs, a Republican from Arizona and the chairman of the House Freedom Caucus, said the Senate’s ‘disregard for American’s Fourth Amendment rights’ is unacceptable.

House Freedom Caucus Chairman Rep. Andy Biggs, R-Arizona, says all three democratic witnesses testifying before the House Judiciary Committee came in with preconceived bias. (screenshot)

“I am disappointed in the Senate’s disregard for the Fourth Amendment rights of American citizens,” Biggs told “Congress has been aware of the abuses occurring under FISA for long enough to have had a vigorous debate and to work towards meaningful reforms. Yet House and Senate leaders continue to use scare-tactics to force clean extensions or simple, cosmetic reforms of FISA authorities.”

The three provisions of the U.S.A. Freedom Act that were reauthorized include the metadata collection under section 215, roving wiretaps and the lone wolf.  For example, section 215 allows the intelligence community to continue to its collection of business and other individual’s records through the FISA court. It also allows for roving wiretaps, which allows federal law enforcement the ability to seek one warrant for an individual who may be using multi-phones or other equipment, like burner devices, for communication. As for the lone wolf provision, it allows the FISA court to issue targeted surveillance warrants on suspected terrorists that may not be connected to a terrorist organization.

Those provisions, however, are not the same provisions that were abused by FBI officials in the warrant obtained to spy on short term Trump campaign volunteer Carter Page. The sections that were responsible for the abuses in the Page FISA warrant come under Title I, and do not expire. For this reason, opponents of reauthorization, like those in the House and Senate, were fighting to use the renewals as leverage to ensure that either Title I is changed or abolished if Fourth Amendment rights couldn’t be protected.

Many civil libertarians, including renowned lawyers Alan Dershowitz, David Schoen and others, like Fox News contributor Gregg Jarrett, have been arguing that if it can’t be fixed it should be abolished. Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., and Sen. Mike Lee, R-Utah, have also been opponents of the FISA court.

All one has to do is read the Department of Justice Inspector General Michael Horowitz’s 435 report, where he revealed in December, that the bureau had 17 gross violations in its warrant and three subsequent renewals to spy on Page. Those violations included withholding exculpatory information, altering documents and lying to the court to spy.

On Monday, McConnell argues that “terrorist organizations still search constantly for opportunities to strike on American soil. Hostile foreign intelligence services, whether Chinese, Russian, or Iranian, still seek to conduct operations within our borders, to recruit assets and agents among our population. ”

“These threats will not wait around if the United States delays restocking our toolbox. And so the Senate should not wait to act, ” McConnell added.

However, Biggs warned that blanket unchecked FISA authority is ripe for similar abuses that were revealed during the FBI’s now debunked probe into President Donald Trump’s campaign.

He warned that “it is time for Congress to get serious about protecting the rights enshrined in the U.S. Constitution.”

The solution, he said, is that “the government should be required to establish probable cause and to obtain a warrant from an Article III court before surveilling Americans. I will continue working with my Republican and Democratic colleagues to make these reforms to FISA and to protect the liberties of all Americans.”