Civil liberties groups urge Congress to keep 702 measures out of upcoming funding votes

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Section 702 of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act is set to expire on April 19 unless reauthorized by Congress.

A bipartisan civil liberties coalition is urging congressional leaders to stop a contested spying power’s reauthorization measure from being incorporated into upcoming must-pass bills needed to keep the government funded through the springtime.

A missive led by the Brennan Center for Justice and over two dozen other civil rights organizations is urging House and Senate leadership to reject any approaches that lawmakers take to shove an extension or reauthorization of surveillance powers derived from Section 702 of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act into a planned continuing resolution, arguing that doing so would mean “blatant disregard” for American civil rights.

The 702 power enables spy agencies to scoop up foreign communications like emails or text messages and use them in investigations related to national security and terrorist threats. 702 permits this collection even if a U.S. citizen or person residing in the United States is on the other side of the communication stream, despite Fourth Amendment protections against unlawful search, which has raised concerns among privacy advocates and others about how American conversations are collected in the process. 

The authority is set to expire in April unless reauthorized by Congress, but dueling narratives over how to extend and reform the measure while keeping it valuable enough for the intelligence community have intensified and obstructed a clear path among lawmakers.

“There is absolutely no justification for such a move. Section 702 is not scheduled to expire until April 19,” the letter says. “That gives Congress ample time to consider and vote on stand-alone legislation,” it adds. The missive cites several instances where the spying authority was used to grant ostensibly improper warrantless access to Americans’ data.

The House is set to take up a pair of continuing resolution bills needed to fund parts of the federal government in the coming weeks. Pro-702 lawmakers could insert the measure into those CRs after initial discussions between two House committees ended in a stalemate, with leaders punting it down the road for later consideration.

Sources close to the House discussions have said lodging that measure into the funding mechanisms would force House members skeptical of a blanket 702 renewal to vote "yes" or risk appearing as if they are voting in favor of shutting down the government

Nextgov/FCW has reached out to congressional leaders’ offices for comment.