Johnson bucks GOP privacy hawks in closed lawmaker meeting on spy tool renewal

House Speaker Mike Johnson, R-La., bucked the will of conservative privacy hawks during a closed-door House GOP Conference meeting on Wednesday, cautioning lawmakers against an amendment on warrant requirements as the House of Representatives readies to renew a key federal government surveillance tool.

Two sources in the room during Johnson’s remarks told Fox News Digital that he broached the warrant amendment during House Republicans’ weekly conference meeting, which multiple lawmakers said centered on renewing Section 702 of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA). Section 702 allows the government to surveil communications of non-Americans overseas who are suspected of having links to terrorism without a warrant. If Americans are caught at the other end of the line, their data could get swept up as well.

Johnson told GOP lawmakers that while he understood the House Judiciary Committee’s arguments on the amendment, its language on exceptions to the warrant requirement may be ‘too narrow and would be difficult to apply,’ one of the sources said.

The amendment, led by Rep. Andy Biggs, R-Ariz., would ban intelligence officials from querying information about U.S. citizens collected through Section 702 without first getting a warrant, save for emergency situations with an imminent threat of death or bodily harm. 

‘702 is narrowly tailored to foreigners abroad. The proposed amendment would require a warrant to search the head of ISIS and Al-Qaeda’s data. That is wrong. It would endanger Americans. I appreciate the speaker’s opposition to the amendment,’ House Intelligence Committee Chairman Mike Turner, R-Ohio, told Fox News Digital. ‘He understands the importance of protecting Americans civil liberties, and our national security.’

Johnson reasoned that the current bill set to get a vote on Thursday, the Reforming Intelligence and Securing America (RISA) Act, itself already carries the necessary reforms to prevent abuse of Section 702.

The federal government has been accused of abusing backdoor loopholes to the existing FISA Section 702 system to collect data on American citizens during the 2020 Black Lives Matter protests, as well as rioters present at the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021.

The new bill, a compromise between the House Judiciary and Intelligence committees, is aimed at limiting who can access that data and improving accountability standards on its abuse.

However, privacy hawks on the right have complained it does not go far enough and threatened the bill’s passage. The second source in the room for Johnson’s comments said that Judiciary Republicans and their allies pushed back on his opposition but did not elaborate on what they said.

Rep. Dan Bishop, R-N.C., a member of the ultra-conservative House Freedom Caucus, told reporters of Johnson’s decision, ‘Unfortunately, I think the speaker is coming forward, reversing his personal position 180 degrees and weighing in on the Intel side. He’s, unfortunately, I think, surrendered on that notion of neutrality.’

On the other side, Intelligence panel member Rep. Darin LaHood, R-Ill., said the warrant amendment would ‘essentially end’ Section 702 ‘as we know it.’

‘The underlying bill before us is the largest reform of the FBI in a generation and goes beyond Section 702 to implement Title I FISA reforms to end the abuses committed against President Trump,’ LaHood said.

Johnson told Fox News Digital during his weekly press conference that House GOP leadership would not whip against the amendment but lauded the RISA bill in its current form.

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