Congress one step closer to reauthorizing controversial federal surveillance tool

Congress is now one step closer to extending the life of a key federal government surveillance tool known as Section 702 of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA).

A bill to reauthorize FISA’s Section 702 passed through the House Rules Committee on Tuesday night, the final hurdle for a piece of legislation before it’s considered House-wide. It passed in a 9 to 2 vote.

Section 702 is a provision that allows the federal government to conduct warrantless surveillance of a foreign national outside the U.S. if they’re suspected of ties to terrorism — even if the person on the other end of the communications is an American citizen.

National security hawks and members of the intelligence community have called it a critical tool for preventing another 9/11-style attack. But critics, which include both conservatives and progressives, have been seeking to limit its scope after reported instances of abuse to collect data on Americans.

The fight over Section 702’s renewal has been among the most bitter that House Republicans have had to contend with, while Speaker Mike Johnson, R-La., also grapples with a razor-thin majority. The current process is House GOP leaders’ third attempt at the tool’s renewal before the April 19 deadline.

The Reforming Intelligence and Securing America Act, a compromise bill between the House Judiciary Committee and the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence, is aimed at curbing instances of abuse by instituting safeguards on accessing Section 702-collected data, particularly if it involves a U.S. citizen.

Under terms agreed upon in the Rules Committee, the House will vote on an amendment backed by the Judiciary Committee to ban warrantless searches of U.S. citizens before voting on the final bill.

A GOP lawmaker opposed to the amendment told Fox News Digital on Tuesday evening, ‘That would effectively kill 702, if that passed.’

Not included in the final bill was an amendment sought by privacy hawks, led by Rep. Warran Davidson, R-Ohio, which would have forced the federal government to seek a warrant before buying U.S. citizens’ data from third-party brokers. 

Opponents of that provision, mostly from the House Intelligence Committee, complained that it was not relevant to Section 702 and would have bogged down its chances of passing in the Senate. 

House Majority Leader Steve Scalise, R-La., told Fox News Digital earlier on Tuesday that Davidson’s amendment would be voted on as a standalone bill later.

The House of Representatives is expected to vote on the Section 702 renewal bill on Thursday, Fox News Digital is told. On Wednesday, administration officials will descend on Capitol Hill for an all-member House briefing on FISA.

Fox News’ Tyler Olson contributed to this report

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