FBI Director Calls For Congressional Renewal Of Warrantless Surveillance

FBI Director Christopher Wray has called for the U.S. Senate to renew Section 702 of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, which allows the government the power of warrantless surveillance outside of the country. This act will expire at the end of December if not renewed by Congress. Wray states, unsurprisingly, that failing to renew the spying powers wielded by the intelligence bureaucracy would be “devastating” to national security.

On Tuesday, Wray spoke to the Senate Judiciary Committee about why these authorities should be renewed, as they help the U.S. government combat terrorism, cyber threats, and more in countries such as China and Iran. “The expiration of our 702 authorities would be devastating to the FBI’s ability to protect Americans from those threats,” Wray said.

Though this Senate committee is Democrat-led, the FBI and the U.S. government have recently come under severe scrutiny from lawmakers across the board over their surveillance power. Many lawmakers have publicly stated that limits must be put on these surveillance powers, specifically where it concerns the surveillance of American citizens.

Though the FBI’s 702 authorities only allow the bureau to surveil foreign agents, or those not in the U.S., lawmakers have discovered “backdoor” ways that the government can surveil U.S. citizens without a warrant through the right given them in Section 702.

These backdoor policies have led to a bipartisan effort to impose new limits and requirements on the government’s surveillance powers. In November, U.S. lawmakers introduced this legislation to keep the FBI and other government programs from surveilling communications of U.S. citizens without a warrant.

However, many U.S. officials oppose the idea of new requirements. According to these officials, the information that their surveillance powers allowed them to collect has been essential to stopping terrorism and threats from foreign agents. Officials state that Section 702 has allowed them to keep Americans safe from these potentially harmful terrorist operations.

During this Senate committee hearing, Wray addressed the concerns that lawmakers on both sides have. He reportedly told the committee that the FBI would be “good stewards of our authorities”, seemingly insinuating that the FBI would keep an eye on their own actions and not conduct these back door policies.

Wray also talked about how the FBI has already made reforms in this area.

However, Sen. Mike Lee (R-UT) doesn’t believe that the FBI will successfully watch their own actions. “It’s never different,” he said. “You haven’t changed.”

Wray continued to hold that Section 702 must be renewed, especially amid record highs of terrorist activity against the U.S. amid the ongoing Israel-Hamas war.

“Stripping the FBI of its 702 authorities would be a form of unilateral disarmament,” Wray said to the committee.