House panels at odds over expiring surveillance tools

The House Judiciary and Intelligence committees are trying to iron out their policy differences over a bill that would extend, and revise, differences in controversial warrantless surveillance programs, Martin reports.

The divergent perspectives have come into focus since Judiciary earlier this month rolled out its bill to reauthorize the spying tools under Section 702 of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act — dubbed the USA Liberty Act (H.R. 3989 (115). Committee members on both panels cast their disagreements as simple differences of opinion about how to move forward with the electronic surveillance efforts, which senior national security and intelligence officials describe as vital to stopping threats against the U.S. and its allies. “We want to find consensus, is the impression that I’ve gotten,” said Rep. Eric Swalwell, who sits on both panels. “It’s just in the painstaking bill drafting process right now.”

A bipartisan concern for Intelligence lawmakers is a provision that would restrict the FBI’s ability to gain access to Americans’ data by requiring the agency to first obtain a warrant when seeking evidence of a crime. In addition, Republicans argue the draft bill’s language related to thehotly debated “unmasking” process — which allows the government to expose the identity of Americans included in intelligence reports — isn’t strong enough. Democrats are eager to enshrine into law the NSA’s decision earlier this year to end “about” collection — the practice of vacuuming up digital communications that simply mention foreign surveillance targets.

Rep. Tom Rooney, who chairs the House Intelligence Committee’s NSA and cybersecurity subpanel and was once worried that his colleagues might have to draft competing FISA legislation, said it now appears the two sides are working together to produce a final bill. But he said his colleagues might have to go their own way if the Judiciary bill languishes in committee. “We’re not going to wait around forever,” he said. Pros can read the full story here.

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COUNCIL OF ELROND  The Election Government Sector Coordinating Council had its first meeting over the weekend, cementing its charter and establishing its members, with 23 of the 27 from state or local government and the remainder feds. The three-way coalition of the Homeland Security Department, Election Assistance Commission and National Association of Secretaries of State was touted as a gathering of sometimes-divergent forces arriving at the same objective.

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