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Critics Gird For Another Fight Over Government Spying Power

The intelligence community and its allies waged an all-out battle to preserve a contentious government spy power. They won in Congress, fending off a conservative-liberal coalition that demanded a dramatic overhaul. They may not be celebrating for long. That’s because, in order to win reauthorization of the surveillance power known as Section 702, which allows the government to collect and search foreign communications without a warrant, Speaker Mike Johnson made an eleventh-hour concession to hardliners on his right by slashing the program’s extension from five years to two years. While it looked like a small tweak, it reflected a high-stakes political gamble, says Politico. Conservatives who haven’t given up on slashing the scope of government’s wiretapping authority are strategizing about how to win the next battle in 2026. They see their prospects as significantly boosted if former President Trump — who called on Congress to “kill” the broader spy law that Section 702 is nested in — wins back the White House.

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The shorter timeframe “is certainly better, because we’ll get another whack at the kind of reforms that we think we need to have,” said House Judiciary Chair Jim Jordan (R-OH). The House’s dramatic deadlock on whether to require a warrant when searching for Americans in the foreign communications collected under the spy power shows “where the Congress is moving,” Jordan added, predicting that a Trump victory would set the stage for “real reform” of the program. No matter who wins the White House, the enduring push to revisit the spy power amounts to a warning for intelligence agencies that helped the Biden administration lobby hard to reauthorize the program. Even after 13 months of work by national security hawks to assuage bipartisan worries that extending the program erodes privacy rights, the foreign surveillance fight went down to the wire — with a failed tie vote on the warrant requirement, a flashpoint in the debate, that killed it for now.

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A daily report co-sponsored by Arizona State University, Criminal Justice Journalists, and the National Criminal Justice Association

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