Bid to extend US Internet spying law

WASHINGTON • Republican leaders in the US House of Representatives are working to build support to temporarily extend the National Security Agency's (NSA) expiring Internet surveillance programme by tucking it into a stop-gap funding measure, lawmakers said.

The month-long extension of the surveillance law, known as Section 702 of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (Fisa), would punt a contentious national security issue into the new year in an attempt to buy lawmakers more time to hash out differences over various proposed privacy reforms.

Lawmakers leaving a Republican conference on Wednesday evening said it was not clear whether the stop-gap Bill had enough support to avert a partial government shutdown on Saturday, or whether the possible addition of the Section 702 extension would affect its chances for passage. It remained possible lawmakers would vote on the short-term extension separate from the spending Bill.

Without congressional action, the law, which allows the NSA to collect vast amounts of digital communications from foreign suspects living outside the United States, will expire on Dec 31.

Earlier in the day, House Republicans retreated from a plan to vote on a stand-alone measure to renew Section 702 until 2021 amid sizeable opposition from both parties that stemmed from concerns that the Bill would violate US privacy rights.

Some US officials have recently said that the deadline may not ultimately matter and that the programme can lawfully continue through April owing to the way it is annually certified.

But lawmakers and the White House still view the law's year-end expiration as significant.

"I think clearly we need the reauthorisation for Fisa, and it is expected we'll get that done" before the end of the year, Mr Marc Short, the White House's legislative director, said on Wednesday on MSNBC.

US intelligence officials consider Section 702 among the most vital of tools at their disposal to thwart threats to national security and American allies.

REUTERS

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on December 22, 2017, with the headline 'Bid to extend US Internet spying law'. Print Edition | Subscribe