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Congress Punts Until 2018 on Warrantless Surveillance Reform

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A short-term spending resolution to keep the government open through most of January also includes a brief extension of a controversial spying authority.

Section 702 of the FISA Amendments Act sunsets at the end of the year, threatening to curtail intelligence programs that have come under increased scrutiny since revelations made by former NSA contractor Edward Snowden in 2013.

Lawmakers on Capitol Hill had seized on the upcoming expiration date in order to advance reforms to the program that would better protect Americans’ privacy. Certain collection activities undertaken via 702 have been shown to infringe on the constitutional rights of Americans who have their communications incidentally scooped up by US spy agencies ostensibly looking for foreign targets. Some lawmakers want to add new warrant requirements to 702 programs.

Reformers will now set their sights on the beginning of next year. The spending resolution currently circulating on Capitol Hill, which could receive a vote by Thursday or Friday, briefly extends 702 by a few weeks, until January 19.

Although section 702 of FISA statutorily expires at the turn of the calendar year, many of the programs operating under the authority have been certified to continue until April 2018. The nation’s spy chiefs, however, warned lawmakers on Thursday that without action ahead of the December deadline, the intelligence community “would need to start winding down” is 702 operations.

Spy agencies had lobbied Congress to pass a clean extension of 702, and make it permanent to avoid similar lapses in the future. The House Rules Committee this week introduced draft legislation assenting to US spies’ demands that would have reauthorized the statute without reforms.

But the bill was promptly pulled from consideration after civil liberties-minded lawmakers, including Sens. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) and Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) threatened to filibuster it.

“I will actively oppose and filibuster any long term extension of warrantless searches of American citizens,” Sen. Paul tweeted on Wednesday.

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Sam Sacks worked on the Hill as a Congressional staffer, and as a writer and reporter since 2008. He’s been published in Hustler Magazine, which you may have seen but don’t want to admit.

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