Updated at 6:07 p.m. ET
The Senate sought to strengthen some protections for those targeted by government surveillance on Thursday with the passage of an amended bill that now faces an uncertain outlook.
Senators voted 80-16 to reauthorize lapsed provisions of the now-notorious Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act and also revise some aspects of how it can be used by the Justice Department and the FBI.
In doing so, however, they passed a version of the legislation different from the one they received from the House, requiring its members to concur with another vote and then for the result to go to President Trump.
Expiring tools revived
Members of Congress wrote expiration dates into surveillance laws so that action would be required to sustain them over time.
When the clock ran out in March on one part of FISA, so did authorities’ ability to use elements including the so-called “business records,” “lone wolf” and “roving wiretap” provisions in counterterrorism or espionage investigations.
The bill passed by the Senate on Thursday would restore those powers, albeit with new restrictions backed by a coalition of civil libertarian Republicans and Democrats.
Leahy invoked the dark legacy of the abuses by President Richard Nixon and said the time had come again for Congress to tackle government surveillance power.
Leahy cited a Justice Department investigation that found problems with a number of FBI requests to the secret FISA court, specifically involving evidence or documentation about the alleged activities of potential targets.
“The benefits of this amendment would be significant,” he said. “Responding to the latest inspector general report … we would require that the government turn over all material exculpatory information to the court, and make it available to the amici, too, if one is appointed. That is a basic due process protection available in every public courtroom in America. The FISA court should be no exception.”
“Today the Senate has an opportunity to reform our flawed surveillance authorities," he said. "Such opportunities do not come by often and we should not squander it.”