House Intelligence Panel Close to Agreement on NSA Spy Program

The top Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee said it was near reaching a consensus on how to overhaul a National Security Agency surveillance program. He added that the committee members hope they will soon complete legislation.

Representative Adam Schiff noted that he suggested a compromise which would enable intelligence agencies to use information on citizen submitted in the database in cases of national security without having to obtain a warrant. However, they would require one to use the information in other, non-related, cases.

“This would prevent law enforcement from simply using the database as a vehicle to go fishing, but at the same time it would preserve the operational capabilities of the program,” he said.

Section 702 of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act is being revised and has to be renewed by Congress before December 31 or otherwise, it will expire. Section 702 allows the NSA to gather large amounts of digital communications between foreign suspect which do not live in the U.S. The surveillance program, however, collects Americans’ communications only incidentally. These communications can now be searched without a warrant.

Schiff expressed confidence that both lawmakers and the intelligence community will find acceptable the compromise similar to legislation backed by the House Judiciary Committee. Still, Section 702 continues to divide lawmakers at the Senate and the House as to what can be done about it, while trying to balance between demands for strengthened protection of privacy and intelligence agencies’ wish to keep this most valuable tool in stopping national security threats.

Different renewal proposals have been submitted to the two chambers. A Senate bill which doesn’t entail obtaining a warrant will most likely not pass the House, Schiff said. It remains unclear whether a standalone 702 bill will be voted on or it would be included in a must-pass bill. A temporary extension to the program might be approved, allowing Congress more time to find a solution.

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