LaHood’s revelation came on the heels of a newly in released government audit, which said that the FBI searched a U.S. congressman’s name in data obtained via Section 702 of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act—the statute that allows U.S. agencies to target foreigners for intelligence purposes.
But nearly a year later, LaHood gave a full-throated defense of FISA Section 702, saying at a Wednesday congressional hearing that it’s crucial for national security. Section 702—the controversial law that allows agencies to spy on foreigners, but which often results in the surveillance of Americans’ communications—is set to expire on April 19 unless reauthorized by Congress.
“I want to focus my remarks on the importance of reauthorizing Section 702 of FISA,” LaHood said during a congressional hearing on the “threat” posed by China.
“I would argue it’s of existential importance to this country from a national-security standpoint,” said LaHood, who has also recently voted to give the FBI a new building.
LaHood then gave the floor to FBI Director Chris Wray, who was testifying at the hearing. Wray agreed with LaHood and said his FISA powers should be expanded.
“Section 702 is the greatest tool to combat PRC [People’s Republic of China]-sponsored hacking groups,” Wray said.
According to the FBI director, failing to renew Section 702—or renewing it with more civil liberties safeguards—would be a form of “unilateral disarmament.”
“China isn’t tying hands behind its back. It’s going the other way, and we need to do the same,” Wray said.
Section 702 of FISA was set to expire by the year’s end, and the House Judiciary Committee had recently passed a bill that would require agencies such as the FBI to obtain warrants before searching information collected about Americans under Section 702.
However, Wray and numerous other intelligence officials opposed warrant requirements. Caving to that pressure, senior congressional leaders snuck a provision to extend Section 702 until April in the National Defense Authorization Act, which funds the military every year.
Ken Silva is a staff writer at Headline USA. Follow him at twitter.com/jd_cashless.