Congess debating FISA

Congressional leaders seek to extend contested surveillance program until April

The life of foreign spying tools set to expire in a few weeks could be briefly extended until April 19 after congressional leaders inserted a short-term renewal into the annual defense policy bill.

The decision to attach a temporary renewal of Section 702 of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act to the massive policy blueprint comes after a week of behind-the-scenes negotiations that held up the final defense measure’s public release.

House Intelligence Committee Chairman Mike Turner (R-OH) and Jim Himes (CT), the panel’s top Democrat, confirmed the renewal was attached to the defense legislation during a roundtable discussion Wednesday afternoon with reporters on Capitol Hill.

By punting to mid-April, lawmakers would give themselves more time to renew the statute — which allows the National Security Agency to collect the electronic communications of foreign intelligence targets — that is set to expire at the end of the year. The statute has come under fire because data on an unknown number of Americans gets siphoned up in the process.

“Obviously, the House has been in chaos and our legislative business has been disrupted,” said Turner, referring to the recent month-long speakership battle.

“So I think that's an appropriate extension to give the House an ability to address 702,” he added. “By extending it, we avoid the calamity of disruption.”

“I lit myself on fire yesterday when I thought there was some chance there would be a one, two or three week period” where 702 was not running, Himes joked.

There has been a flurry of reauthorization bills introduced over the last month, each with a different take on if FBI analysts who search the NSA data trove for information on Americans must obtain a warrant — a mandate the White House has adamantly opposed.

The House Judiciary Committee on Wednesday became the first panel to approve its legislation, one with the most far-reaching warrant requirement yet.

The Intelligence panel, which shares jurisdiction over FISA, takes up its bill on Thursday. Turner and Himes said their measure has incorporated provisions from the Senate Intelligence Committee’s bill, essentially making it bicameral.

A months-long delay would also keep the heated reauthorization debate out of the next fight over government funding. Congress previously approved a two-tranche spending plan to avoid a shutdown before the holiday recess. An April extension would ensure Section 702 runs in the event of a government shutdown.

House Speaker Mike Johnson (R-LA) is in a “tough position” as he tries to get “year-end stuff done” like FISA renewal and the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA), according to Turner, a longtime member of the House Armed Services Committee.

An April extension could also silence privacy hawks and civil libertarians who don’t want such a 702 renewal linked to must-pass funding bills. The strategy does carry some risk though; a bipartisan coalition of House lawmakers previously warned congressional leaders against a FISA extension riding on the NDAA.

It’s unclear if that opposition will hold, or grow, now that the provision has been included, especially within the fractured House GOP conference.

“I think people claiming that they're not going to vote for the NDAA who were not going to vote for it anyway, do not imperil the bill,” Turner said.

During the Judiciary markup, panel chairman Jim Jordan (R-OH) said he expected the committee’s bill to receive a floor vote next week but it’s likely the short-term extension would upset that timeline.

Turner said he doesn’t have “any assurances” about when his panel’s legislation would be considered by the chamber.

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Martin Matishak

Martin Matishak

is the senior cybersecurity reporter for The Record. Prior to joining Recorded Future News in 2021, he spent more than five years at Politico, where he covered digital and national security developments across Capitol Hill, the Pentagon and the U.S. intelligence community. He previously was a reporter at The Hill, National Journal Group and Inside Washington Publishers.