Throughout the fall, privacy advocates on Capitol Hill pushed for changes to the law to curtail what critics say is a violation of Americans’ Fourth Amendment protections — a push that seemed to gain some momentum despite the objections of the Trump administration.
House Judiciary Chairman Bob Goodlatte (R-Va.) has long said that a clean reauthorization of Section 702 would not pass the House, where the powerful Freedom Caucus has banded together with privacy-minded Democrats to advocate for tighter restrictions on how government investigators can use data gathered under the program.
But with just a few weeks left until the Dec. 31 deadline, even those tracking the debate closely aren’t sure what reforms, if any, will see the floor in either chamber.
The House Judiciary Committee earlier this month voted to pass its package to extend the law with some modest reforms — tweaks that the Freedom Caucus, long seen as the most likely roadblock to a clean reauthorization, says don’t go nearly far enough.
But asked by The Hill after the vote if they would be able to block the measure, Rep. Jim Jordan (R-Ohio) had a three-word answer: “I doubt it.”
Those discussions have set off alarm bells among USA Liberty Act supporters, who are fearful that leadership will attach a watered-down version of the bill to must-pass legislation at the end of the year.
“We are concerned by reports that, over the coming break, your office will meet with the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence ‘to chart a path forward’ on Section 702,” a bipartisan group of Judiciary lawmakers wrote in a letter to Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) last week.
“We believe that you will meet resistance on any measure that further weakens the privacy protections built into the USA Liberty Act.”
House lawmakers could pursue a short-term extension of the law to allow the two committees to iron out their differences — but most lawmakers are not keen to place the NSA program in legal limbo.