The U.S. Senate voted to extend, rather than tweak, three surveillance powers that federal law enforcement officials use to fight terrorists, passing the bill back to the House.
The 75-day extension, approved in the Senate Monday, pushes off the debate over the surveillance tools as Congress deals with the pressing economic fallout of the coronavirus pandemic. It is not yet clear whether the House will accept the temporary extension of the surveillance powers, which lapsed on Sunday.
The House passed a compromise bill last week negotiated by House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and House Republican leader Kevin McCarthy that would renew the authorities and impose new restrictions.
President Donald Trump and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell endorsed the measure, but skeptics of the surveillance tools in the Senate blocked a quick passage, according to The Associated Press report.
The House legislation would update the three expiring surveillance provisions, including one that permits the FBI to obtain court orders to collect business records on subjects in national security investigations. Another, known as the “roving wiretap” provision, permits surveillance on subjects even after they’ve changed phones. The third allows agents to monitor subjects who don’t have ties to international terrorism organizations.
The legislation would scale back some current authorities, such as the government’s access to certain records. It would also attempt to put stronger checks on some surveillance measures and make the process more transparent.
The compromise reflects angst in both parties about the way the surveillance powers have been used, but also a reluctance to strip those powers from the government’s arsenal. Republicans and Democrats in the House broadly agreed they did not want civil liberties sacrificed in efforts to thwart terrorism and other crimes.
It is unclear whether the House will vote on the Senate extension, which would make no changes to the authorities during the 75 days.
A Democratic aide said that House leadership was discussing how to move forward, as the House is on recess and has no set date for returning.