Key GOP lawmaker calls for renewal of surveillance tool as he proposes changes to protect privacy

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WASHINGTON (AP) — The Republican chairman of the House Intelligence Committee called Thursday for the renewal of a key U.S. government surveillance tool as he proposed a series of changes aimed at safeguarding privacy.

The proposals by Rep. Mike Turner are part of a late scramble inside Congress and the White House to guarantee the reauthorization of Section 702 of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, which allows spy agencies to collect emails and other communications. They emerged from a congressional working group and are expected to form the basis of a legislative package that Turner hopes can be passed before Section 702 expires at the end of the year.

“We believe that before the end of the year, we will have a significant package of reforms that will be unprecedented, and at the same time, we will have the renewal of 702,” Turner told reporters.

The section of law at issue permits U.S. officials to collect without a warrant the communications of targeted foreigners who are outside the country and suspected of posing a national security threat. The government also captures the communications of American citizens and others in the U.S. when they’re in contact with those targeted foreigners.

The program has come under scrutiny in the last year following revelations that FBI analysts improperly searched the database of intelligence, including for information about people tied to the Jan. 6, 2021, riot at the U.S. Capitol and the racial justice protests of 2020.

The changes described by Turner are meant to heighten the penalties for such abuses, including by allowing Congress to trigger a mandatory inspector general review into alleged violations, and to tighten restrictions on queries, especially ones that are politically sensitive. He also called for allowing only a limited group of FBI supervisors and attorneys to authorize queries of people inside the U.S.

Much of the debate so far has centered on whether U.S. officials should be required to obtain a warrant before accessing intelligence on people inside the U.S.

A bill introduced last week by Democratic Sen. Ron Wyden and other lawmakers included a warrant requirement. The White House, however, has said such a proposal would cross a “red line,” and FBI Director Christopher Wray told lawmakers at a hearing Wednesday that a mandate for a court order would be legally unnecessary and would snarl vital investigations at a time of rising terrorism threats.

“At a time when the FBI director is claiming that we have the largest threat to national security … it would be incredibly dangerous and detrimental for us to either allow 702 to expire or to saddle it in a way that it’s unusable,” Turner said.

Turner said his proposal would require a warrant only when the database query seeks evidence of a specific crime — but not for searches related to national security.

Additional legislative proposals are expected. Asked Thursday about the status of negotiations with Rep. Jim Jordan, the Republican chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, Turner said Jordan had indicated that he planned to submit a different proposal.

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