United States reauthorizes contentious intelligence gathering initiative

Section 702 of the FISA act was reauthorized despite fierce resistance from former President Donald Trump

The US House of Representatives has voted to renew a surveillance act that allows the government to spy on American citizens without a warrant. Pro-Trump Republicans blocked an earlier version of the act, but were persuaded to lift their veto by House Speaker Mike Johnson.

The House voted 273-147 on Friday to fund Section 702 of the 1978 Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA). Drafted in 2008, Section 702 legalized a formerly clandestine program, granting US intelligence agencies the power to monitor internet and phone communications from abroad made through American networks like Google.

Ostensibly designed to target foreigners, the program also ‘indirectly’ collects data from millions of American citizens, which can then be accessed without a court warrant. According released in 2022, the FBI used this program to probe the electronic data of nearly 3.4 million Americans in 2021.

A group of 19 conservative lawmakers blocked a procedural vote on Wednesday, preventing Johnson from holding a full floor vote on the renewal of Section 702. Supporting the 19 Republicans was former President Donald Trump, who encouraged them to “kill FISA,” complaining that the FBI “illegally used” the act to spy on his 2016 campaign.

On Friday morning, however, the dissidents agreed that they would allow a vote to take place if Johnson cut Section 702’s funding from five years to two, and held a separate vote on an amendment that would require the FBI and other spy agencies to obtain warrants before using the program against Americans.

The amendment – backed by an unlikely alliance of left-wing progressives and hardline conservatives – received 212 votes for and 212 votes against. However, Johnson used his tie breaking vote to defeat the amendment, ensuring that the warrantless wiretapping of American citizens can continue and incurring the wrath of Trump’s Capitol Hill allies.

“Speaker Johnson was the final vote. He was the one that caused the warrant amendment to fail,” Georgia Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene told reporters. “What’s the difference between Speaker Pelosi and Speaker Johnson? There’s not one,” she added, referring to former House Speaker Nancy Pelosi.

“A Republican Speaker voting against warrant requirements for American citizens after this very process was blatantly abused to spy on Donald Trump and his campaign is beyond the pale,” Florida Rep. Greg Steube wrote on X. 

Johnson is due to meet with Trump in Florida later on Friday. The pair are expected to discuss the FISA reauthorization.