- The Washington Times - Wednesday, January 10, 2018

The White House issued a stern statement late Wednesday pleading with Congress not to approve strict limits to the government’s foreign spy powers, suggesting that adding civil rights checks could lead to another Sept. 11-style attack.

The warning came a day before the House is slated to vote on whether to renew Section 702 of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, which governs the collection of communications from foreign targets.

A coalition of conservatives and liberals will try to add new protections into the law for Americans whose data is scooped up in the collections, requiring the government to get a warrant before it can dig through the Americans’ information for domestic criminal cases.

But the White House said that would risk returning to the days before 2001, when civil liberties rules walled off criminal investigators and foreign spies, keeping them from sharing information.

“This amendment would re-establish the walls between intelligence and law enforcement that our country knocked down following the attacks of 9/11 in order to increase information sharing and improve our national security,” White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said in a statement. “The Administration urges the House to reject this amendment and preserve the useful role FISA’s Section 702 authority plays in protecting American lives.”

Section 702 allows the government to target foreigners overseas for data collection. But Americans and others in the U.S. can have their communications snared if they communicate with the target.

Section 702 is slated to expire Jan. 19, and Congress is rushing to renew it. GOP leaders have written a bill that renews the powers through 2023. It would require investigators to get a warrant to look at Americans’ information, but only after the government has started an investigation.

Civil libertarians fear investigators will just put off opening an official investigation so they can look at the data.

Led by Rep. Justin Amash, the left-right coalition will try to amend the bill Thursday to require a warrant before any of the information collected on Americans can be perused for domestic criminal purposes. Authorities could still look at the information without a warrant in national security cases, the lawmakers said.

The intelligence community, and now the White House, say that’s not enough leeway for them.

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