Powerplay: FISA Sham Reform Bill Released

House national security hawks have, for now, outmaneuvered FISA reformers....but the fight is not over and the secret session is off for now

Powerplay: FISA Sham Reform Bill Released
House chamber (Source: Architect of the Capitol)

Publisher's note: Due to the fast moving and fast changing nature of events on Capitol Hill, I'm offering this update on the battle to reform--or not--the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA). Other updates will follow as events dictate and time allows.

Late yesterday afternoon, the House Rules Committee finally posted the so-called FISA compromise reform bill. It is sham, and an insulting one at that. Some of the low lights:

Unlike the House Judiciary Committee bill passed by that body in December by a 35-2 bipartisan margin, the new bill 1) does not mandate a warrant before FBI personnel can sift through the FISA Section 702 database for information on U.S. Persons and 2) still allows federal law enforcement agencies to buy data on U.S. Persons from data brokers--no warrant required.

The bill also allows for FBI agents to go through the Section 702 database for information "relevant to an existing, open, predicated full national security investigation."

The phrase "national security investigation" is defined exactly nowhere in the bill--which means the FBI will be given unprecedented latitude to decide what, in fact, constitutes a "national security investigation" and its accompanying database search.

And here's the part that adds insult to injury.

If the FBI decides to query the 702 database and knows or suspects it may return data on a House or Senate member, said House or Senate member gets a personal heads up from the FBI.

You, me, and everybody else in this country does not get that courtesy.

The bill also leaves the internal auditing and oversight mechanisms at the Department of Justice for the 702 program unchanged--internal "oversight" mechanisms that have, over the 15 years the Section 702 program has been in existence, routinely failed to prevent the kinds of abuses I've previously covered.

Is it all a done deal? Not yet.

The House Freedom Caucus is holding a press conference today at 3pm to discuss the FISA debate. While I realize the HFC is viewed by many people--with good reason--as often being a force for chaos, that very good, bipartisan House Judiciary bill I mentioned above was co-authored by an HFC member, Rep. Andy Biggs (R-AZ), along with Rep. Zoe Lofgren (D-CA). If the HFC makes clear that the new bill is dead on arrival, it could completely alter the outcome here.

Interestingly, shortly after 10pm last night, POLITICO reported that House Speaker Mike Johnson (R-LA) had backed off plans for a secret House session to debate the bill:

For those of you who took the time to call, email, or blast away on social media in opposition to a secret House session, well done! 😎

Even so, this fight isn’t over and national security hawks might still try again to get proceedings conducted in secret. Accordingly, my advice today is the same as it was yesterday:

1. Go to the House website

2. Look in the upper right corner of the homepage for the "Find Your Representative" section

3. Plug in your 9-digit ZIP code (some districts straddle multiple ZIP codes, hence the need for the 9-digit version to get you the right info)

4. Once you've confirmed who your Representative is, you can make your choice as to whether you want to call their DC office or email them.

5. Whether you call or email, give them a simple message: Unless your Representative votes a for a FISA reform bill that 1) is considered in open session, not some secret Star Chamber-like ritual, 2) requires the FBI to get a warrant to get your records and 3) bans all law enforcement agencies from buying data from data brokers to circumvent your Fourth Amendment rights, that Representative will not get your vote come November. If you’ve got the time, think about doing a quick video on TikTok, Instagram, or Facebook with the same message, tagging your House member to make sure their communications staff sees your post.

Thanks again for reading, and please share widely.

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