Congress has had a difficult year with a great deal of infighting, both across parties lines and within party lines. Democrats have failed to come together as a party while Republicans have failed to accomplish much of anything with their majorities. December promises to be a critical month with a number of critical issues upcoming, including tax reform and keeping the government funded.
Another issue that will be a battle is the renewal of the controversial Section 702 surveillance powers, which are set to expire at the end of the year.
Speaking recently, Senate Intelligence Committee Chairman Richard Burr stated that there would be no vote on a stand-alone measure. Instead, the reauthorization of FISA Section 702 would come rolled into a must-pass piece of legislation. While this is not unusual for Congress to attempt, it represents a desperate attempt by big government lawmakers to keep the sweeping surveillance powers alive.
Burr is also opposed to proposals that would require federal investigators to seek a warrant before acquiring data of Americans swept up in foreign monitoring. He has stated there is no chance the final Senate legislation includes such a requirement.
Negotiations are ongoing with the House Intelligence Committee, though Burr’s committee is not working with House Judiciary Committee. The House Judiciary Committee, to their credit, has proposed a warrant requirement.
It’s possible that reauthorization could be attached to any measure designed to keep the government funded and open. The political risk of a government shutdown is something many lawmakers are unwilling to risk, because of how it can affect the lives of many.
This is not to say there won’t be opposition in this instance. The likes of Congressmen Thomas Massie and Justin Amash as well Senator Rand Paul could easily take a stand. These three and a small handful of others have shown a willingness to stand up to the surveillance state consistently, but they are few and far between.
Currently and until the law expires, American communications can be swept up when monitoring foreign targets. This clearly contradicts the plain text of the Fourth Amendment, one of four amendments to the Bill of Rights designed to protect citizens from invasive federal power. Everything points to a struggle determining how much the federal government will be allowed to violate the Constitution.
If the Intelligence Committees in both the House and Senate get their way, the intelligence community will get a more clean reauthorization of their illicit power. This is what Burr has indicated he favors, but if the Judiciary Committee gets in the way, everything could fall apart.
Will it be the big government surveillance hawks or the pro-Constitution privacy advocates who win the December legislative battle? Only time will tell.
Congress is in a state of political war right now over numerous issues. The failure to repeal Obamacare and achieve other political goals have put members at odds with each other, and the tensions are worsening. Tax policy and government funding are again inciting a fight. But these all could be nothing compared to the battle over security versus liberty, and the importance of the Fourth Amendment to the United States Constitution.