Lawmakers Hesitant to Reform FBI Spy Tools

( – Lawmakers will have to decide how to reform a critical intelligence tool to prevent abuse by FBI agents looking to research foreigners and their U.S. counterparts. The FBI has been caught multiple times in recent years using the tool in illegal ways, and while it has had some reforms internally, conservatives in Congress believe it’s not enough to prevent abuse.

The tool is in Section 702 of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) and grants the power of warrantless surveillance to FBI and CIA agents of foreigners. The database incidentally grabs information on their U.S. associates, who communicate with them.

Declassified reports have demonstrated that the FBI has repeatedly used the tool improperly hundreds of thousands of times over the last few years to acquire information about U.S. citizens who donate to specific campaigns or who protest in ways the FBI does not approve of.

Rep. Darin LaHood (R-IL) pointed out that reforms are coming out of the House Intelligence Committee which should ameliorate the problem during a talk he gave before the Council on Foreign Relations on the evening of November 28th. LaHood has been instrumental in leading the charge to reform the controversial practice. He previously published a list of 45 changes the committee came up with.

One of the big changes is the requirement that the FBI obtain a warrant before searching for information on U.S. citizens; however, that is strongly opposed by FBI Director Christopher Wray.

The Senate Intelligence Committee is pushing a bill that would renew FISA in its current form without any changes like warrant requirements for surveillance of U.S. citizens.

House Judiciary Committee will take up the Senate bill in the coming days and edit it to be sent back to the Senate. Several privacy advocates including Rep. Andy Biggs (R-AZ) and Sen. Ron Wyden (D-OR) are arguing for a warrant requirement for surveillance of U.S. citizens. Wray suggested that the check on FBI power is a “nonstarter” citing the need for “agility and speed.” He claimed that the warrant requirement would make the database “useless.”

Libertarians and conservatives aren’t concerned due to the history of abuse by the FBI.

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