House Speaker Kills Conservative Anti-Spying Effort

House Speaker Mike Johnson (R-LA) and other Republicans joined with Democrats on Friday to defeat an amendment to the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) reauthorization that would have required government agents to get a warrant to spy on phone records of American citizens.

Rep. Andy Biggs (R-AZ) proposed the amendment, which failed to make it into the final bill by a vote of 212 to 212. The House passed the FISA renewal on Friday, sending it to President Joe Biden’s desk, who expressed support for the bill and opposition to the Biggs amendment earlier in the week.

Section 702 of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act allows federal officials to collect data on phone calls from Americans if they do so inadvertently as part of data collection on a foreign target and they collect the data outside U.S. borders.

But House conservatives argue that this flies in the face of the Fourth Amendment guarantee in the constitution of a right to be free from unreasonable searches and seizures and that “no Warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by Oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched and the persons or things to be seized.”

Without the Biggs amendment to protect American freedoms from Fourth Amendment violations by federal officials, the House passed the bill 273-147 to re-authorize FISA for two more years. 126 Republicans voted in favor of the bill and 147 Democrats supported it.

“This is how the Constitution dies,” said U.S. Rep. Thomas Massie (R-KY). “By a tie vote, the amendment to require a warrant to spy on Americans goes down in flames. This is a sad day for America. The Speaker doesn’t always vote in the House, but he was the tie breaker today. He voted against warrants.”

“When it comes to warrantless searches for Americans,” Biggs said during a House speech, “They can’t provide any examples of where … that’s provided any useful information, and yet they want to continue to look at U.S. persons’ information without a warrant.”