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. 


The bill initially passed the House in March as part of a deal negotiated by Attorney General William BarrBill BarrTrump pushes back on book claims, says he spent 'virtually no time' discussing election with Lee, Graham Woodward: Milley was 'setting in motion sensible precautions' with calls to China Barr-Durham investigation again fails to produce a main event MORE and leadership in both parties. Majority Leader Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellWe don't need platinum to solve the debt ceiling crisis The Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Alibaba - Democrats argue price before policy amid scramble House passes standalone bill to provide B for Israel's Iron Dome 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 LeeHillicon Valley — Presented by Xerox — Officials want action on cyberattacks Senate panel advances antitrust bill that eyes Google, Facebook Trump pushes back on book claims, says he spent 'virtually no time' discussing election with Lee, Graham MORE (R-Utah) and Patrick LeahyPatrick Joseph LeahyPhotos of the Week: Renewable energy, gymnast testimonies and a Met Gala dress Senators denounce protest staged outside home of Justice Kavanaugh Al Franken on another Senate run: 'I'm keeping my options open' 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 TrumpJulian Castro knocks Biden administration over refugee policy Overnight Energy & Environment — League of Conservation Voters — Climate summit chief says US needs to 'show progress' on environment Five takeaways from Arizona's audit results 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. 


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 WydenOn The Money — House pushes toward infrastructure vote Hillicon Valley — Presented by Xerox — EU calls out Russian hacking efforts aimed at member states Why Democrats opposing Biden's tax plan have it wrong MORE (D-Ore.) and Steve DainesSteven (Steve) David DainesWarren, Daines introduce bill honoring 13 killed in Kabul attack Daines to introduce bill awarding Congressional Gold Medal to troops killed in Afghanistan Powell reappointment to Fed chair backed by Yellen: report 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 SandersDon't let partisan politics impede Texas' economic recovery The Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Alibaba - Democrats argue price before policy amid scramble Overnight Energy & Environment — Presented by the League of Conservation Voters — EPA finalizing rule cutting HFCs 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.