What is FISA? House passes reauthorization of US surveillance program

 The House passed a bill Friday that would reauthorize and provide reforms to a key U.S. government surveillance tool. 

The bill, which was approved 273-147, would reform and extend a section of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, known as Section 702 or FISA, for two years. 

What is FISA?

According to the U.S. Justice Department, the federal law was initially enacted in 1978 and sets out rules and procedures for physical and electronic surveillance and the collection of foreign intelligence. 

Initially, FISA addressed only electronic surveillance but has been significantly amended to address the use of pen registers, trap and trace devices, physical searches and business records.

FISA has been significantly amended several times, including after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.


US House Speaker Mike Johnson, a Republican from Louisiana, center, speaks during a news conference at the US Capitol in Washington, DC, US, on Wednesday, April 10, 2024. (Credit: Julia Nikhinson/Bloomberg via Getty Images

The FISA debate largely centers around Section 702, which allows the U.S. government to collect electronic communications of non-Americans located outside the country without a warrant. 

The government uses the information collected under Section 702 to protect the United States and its allies from hostile foreign adversaries, including terrorists, proliferators, and spies, and to inform cybersecurity, according to the Director of National Intelligence.

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Republicans have clashed for months over what a legislative overhaul of the FISA surveillance program should look like, creating divisions that spilled onto the House floor this week as 19 Republicans broke with their party to prevent the bill from coming up for a vote.

However, the revised proposal with a shortened timeline helped flip some conservative opposition to the legislation.

"The two-year timeframe is a much better landing spot because it gives us two years to see if any of this works rather than kicking it out five years," Rep. Chip Roy, R-Texas, said Thursday. "They say these reforms are going to work. Well, I guess we’ll find out."

The reauthorization is currently tied to a series of reforms aimed at satisfying critics who complained of civil liberties violations against Americans.

Bill heads to Senate

The bill will now head to the Senate, where its future is uncertain. Unless Congress acts, the program is set to expire on April 19.

This story was reported from Los Angeles. The Associated Press contributed.