FISA reform to hit the Senate floor: Here’s what to know

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A bipartisan bill passed by the House in March that seeks to reform the secret Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) court process will hit the Senate floor Tuesday.

FISA abuses were at the heart of the scandal involving allegations of Russia interference in the 2016 campaign after DOJ Inspector General Michael Horowitz found widespread errors in a report about warrant applications. Here’s what to know about the new legislation:

The FISC will face more oversight 

The new legislation requires the attorney general to personally sign off on surveilling government officials.

Attorney General Bill Barr said in March he supported the passage of the FISA bill, saying it “will protect against abuse and misuse in the future.”

The Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court (FISC) was created for use by federal law enforcement and intelligence agencies to request surveillance warrants against foreign spies inside the U.S.

The FBI obtained a FISA warrant to surveil former Trump campaign adviser Carter, accused by the Steele dossier of having ties to Russia. A Justice Department assessment released by the FISC in January revealed that at least two of the FBI’s surveillance applications to secretly monitor former Trump campaign adviser Carter Page lacked probable cause.


Horowitz’s FISA report revealed there were at least 17 "significant inaccuracies and omissions" in the Page FISA applications.

The June 2017 Page FISA warrant renewal, which was one of two deemed invalid by the DOJ, was approved by then-Acting FBI Director (and now CNN contributor) Andrew McCabe, as well as former Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein. The April 2017 warrant renewal was approved by then-FBI Director James Comey.

The bill will also expand when FISA judges should appoint an outsider to critique the government's position. Currently, judges are only to do so when addressing a novel and significant question of interpreting surveillance law.


Section 215 extended but reined in 

A controversial portion of the FBI’s surveillance powers, known as Section 215, gave the government broad powers to demand “business records” from companies in the name of national security investigations.

The new legislation allows obtaining business records to continue but bans using a business records order to collect information like cell phone data that in a criminal investigation requires a warrant, which has a higher legal standard.

The National Security Agency (NSA) previously used Section 215 to collect bulk phone data records, which was highly controversial. In recent years, the bulk metadata collection was outlawed and a narrowly tailored program was allowed, but now that program would be officially ended under the legislation.

Some surveillance measures will be reauthorized

The House bill reauthorizes a program dealing with “roving” wiretaps, permitting surveillance on subjects even after they’ve changed phones.

It will also reauthorize a program allowing for the surveillance of “lone wolf” suspects, those who have no connection to a known terrorist group.

Stricter penalties for abusing the FISC process for political purposes

False declarations before FISC or other FISA abuses, including engaging in electronic surveillance without authorization, disclosing or using information obtained by e-surveillance without authorization, will now have a penalty of up to eight years in prison, up from five.

The bill has a section stipulating the penalty also applies to “an employee, officer, or contractor of the United States Government [who] intentionally discloses an application, or classified information contained therein, for an order under any title of this Act to any person not entitled to receive classified information.”

The bill has bipartisan support, but some vocal opposition 

USA Freedom Reauthorization Act passed by a 278-136 vote in House. It brought together the staunchest President Trump supporters like Reps. Devin Nunes, R-Calif., and Jim Jordan, R-Ohio, and some of his fiercest critics like Reps. Jerrold Nadler, D-N.Y., and Adam Schiff, D-Calif., who wanted improvements to protect Americans' privacy and safeguard against surveillance abuses.

Some senators are undecided on the bill, and others oppose it. Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., opposes the bill, but has proposed an amendment. “None of the reforms prevent secret FISA court from abusing the rights of Americans. None of the reforms prevent a President of either party from a politically motivated investigation. Big Disappointment!” Paul tweeted in March. Sen. Mike Lee, R-Utah, called on the president to veto the bill if it passes as it stands. He too has proposed an amendment.


The Senate will debate three amendments to the bill: the Paul amendment advocating for the privacy rights of Americans, the Lee-Leahy amendment focused on Amicus reforms and exculpatory evidence that would strengthen the role of outside advisors and the Daines-Wyden amendment that would prevent law enforcement from obtaining Internet browsing and search data history.

Fox News' Chad Pergram and Marisa Schultz contributed to this report.