The Trump administration has determined that even if Congress does not approve an extension of the National Security Agency and the FBI’s warrantless surveillance program before the law that authorizes it expires at the end of 2017, the agencies can still continue to utilize the program, according to a new report.
The legal basis for the program, Section 702 of the FISA Amendments Act, is set to expire on New Year's Eve and, as a result, national security officials have urged Congress for a year-and-a-half extension. Section 702 allows the government agencies to gather information such as phone calls, emails, texts, among other things, from domestic companies, including AT&T and Google.
However, lawmakers have been focused on a tax reform overhaul and are not united regarding potential changes to the surveillance program.
But lawyers from the executive branch have found a way that would allow the agencies to operate the surveillance programs until late April without action from Congress, Brian Hale, a spokesman for the Office of the Director of National Intelligence, told the New York Times.
Nearly every year, the secretive Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court creates a series of rules for the program and permits it to operate for a year. The last time the court issued a certificate of this nature was on April 26, meaning the existing order will “continue in effect for a short time even if Congress doesn’t act to reauthorize the law in a timely fashion.”
Even so, intelligence officials are urging lawmakers to pass a long-term extension this month and have voiced concern that even a temporary extension would put the program in jeopardy in the spring.
“We fully expect Congress to reauthorize this critical statute by the end of the year,” Hale said. “Not doing so would be unthinkable in light of the considerable value Section 702 provides in protecting the nation.”
The surveillance program in question branched out of the Bush administration’s covert Stellarwind warrantless surveillance program following the Sept. 11 terror attacks. Once the program was revealed, Congress established the FISA Amendments Act of 2008 to establish a legal form of the program.