Justice Department signals opposition to Senate's surveillance bill

Justice Department signals opposition to Senate's surveillance bill
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The Justice Department is raising a red flag over an intelligence reauthorization bill passed by the Senate, raising fresh questions about the fate of the legislation.

“We appreciate the Senate’s reauthorization of three expired national security authorities. As amended, however, [it] would unacceptably degrade our ability to conduct surveillance of terrorists, spies and other national security threats," a Justice Department spokesperson said in a statement.  

The Senate voted 80-16 on Thursday to pass a bill that paired a reauthorization of three provisions of the USA Freedom Act, a 2015 intelligence reform bill, with some changes to the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) Court. 

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The bill initially passed the House in March as part of a deal negotiated by Attorney General William BarrBill BarrKamala Harris: The right choice at the right time Hillicon Valley: Facebook removed over 22 million posts for hate speech in second quarter | Republicans introduce bill to defend universities against hackers targeting COVID-19 research | Facebook's Sandberg backs Harris as VP pick Three pros and three cons to Biden picking Harris MORE and leadership in both parties. Majority Leader Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellMcConnell warns control of Senate 'could go either way' in November On The Money: McConnell says it's time to restart coronavirus talks | New report finds majority of Americans support merger moratorium | Corporate bankruptcies on pace for 10-year high McConnell: Time to restart coronavirus talks MORE (R-Ky.) wanted to pass the House bill without changes.

But the Senate, during a two-day debate this week, made changes to the bill when they agreed to add an amendment from Sens. Mike LeeMichael (Mike) Shumway LeeDavis: The Hall of Shame for GOP senators who remain silent on Donald Trump Overnight Defense: Air Force general officially becomes first African American service chief | Senators introduce bill to block Trump armed drone sale measure | State Department's special envoy for Iran is departing the Trump administration Senators introduce bill to block Trump armed drone sale measure MORE (R-Utah) and Patrick LeahyPatrick Joseph LeahySenate Democrats demand answers on migrant child trafficking during pandemic Yates spars with GOP at testy hearing Vermont has a chance to show how bipartisanship can tackle systemic racism MORE (D-Vt.) that would increase the role of outside legal experts in FISA court hearings, including allowing them to weigh in on some FBI surveillance requests.

Opponents of the legislation warned that it would bog down the FISA process, while supporters countered that it would be manageable because it would only apply to a small subset of people. 

The pushback from the Justice Department is only the latest sign that the intelligence bill could face hurdles to making it to the desk of President TrumpDonald John TrumpDemocrat calls on White House to withdraw ambassador to Belarus nominee TikTok collected data from mobile devices to track Android users: report Peterson wins Minnesota House primary in crucial swing district MORE, who has not said if he supports it.

Due to the Senate-made changes, the bill has to be passed by the House a second time. 

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A House Democratic leadership aide told The Hill that the Senate bill would not be taken up on Friday when the chamber will take up a rules change to allow voting by proxy and a mammoth coronavirus relief bill.

"Democratic leadership assessing next steps," the aide added.

And there are already calls from progressives to make broader changes to the bill before it passes the House. 

The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) is calling on the House to revive an amendment from Sens. Ron WydenRonald (Ron) Lee WydenOVERNIGHT ENERGY: Watchdog report raises new questions for top Interior lawyer | Senate Democrats ask Trump to withdraw controversial public lands nominee | Border wall water use threatens endangered species, environmentalists say Watchdog report raises new questions for top Interior lawyer Trump signs executive orders after coronavirus relief talks falter MORE (D-Ore.) and Steve DainesSteven (Steve) David DainesSenate Democrats ask Trump to withdraw controversial public lands nominee Davis: The Hall of Shame for GOP senators who remain silent on Donald Trump Lincoln Project expands GOP target list, winning Trump ire MORE (R-Mont.) that would block law enforcement from being able to access web browsing data without a warrant.

The Senate narrowly failed to add the amendment to the bill during its debate. The amendment needed 60 votes to be added and got 59. Several senators who were expected to vote in favor, including Sen. Bernie SandersBernie SandersBiden wins Connecticut in final presidential primary of year Vermont Rep. Peter Welch easily wins primary Three pros and three cons to Biden picking Harris MORE (I-Vt.), were not present for the session.

Wyden in a tweet noted that "my amendment to secure browser history from warrantless spying would have passed with a full Senate present."

"Any renewal of government surveillance powers must have equally strong protections for Americans’ privacy," he added.