Democrats in talks to bridge surveillance divide

House Intelligence Chairman Adam Schiff (D-Calif.) says Democrats are making progress in their negotiations over the reauthorization of a key surveillance bill, stating Tuesday that they are working to include more privacy protections.

Intra-party rifts have emerged in recent weeks as some progressive Democrats and libertarian Republicans push to include additional additional privacy protection amendments to the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA), while others argued that a clean reauthorization bill had a better chance of making it through the Senate.

Schiff says he and his staff have been working the House Judiciary Committee as well as Reps. Zoe Lofgren (Calif.) and Pramila Jayapal (Wash.) — two Judiciary Democrats who have pushed for more protections — in an effort to get the bill passed by March 15. That’s the deadline to extend three expiring provisions of the USA Freedom Act that touch on roving wiretaps, lone wolf surveillance, and a controversial program that allows the U.S. government to request access to phone metadata.

“We’re trying to find as much common ground as we can,” Schiff told The Hill. “We are trying to incorporate even more privacy protections in the hopes that we can get to an agreement in a timely way.”

Schiff said some of Lofgren’s amendments are being considered, including an amicus provision that would add an outside advocate for every FISA case in which an American is targeted as well as make it illegal for the government to collect a U.S. citizen’s metadata.

“We’re looking at expanding the amicus provisions, we are looking at limiting the period of attention to business records, what the business records provision can be used for, making sure that you can’t use the business records to get things you would need a court order for the criminal context, limiting the use of geolocation data or their usage of location information,” Schiff said.

House Democrats last week were forced to pull their bill in the Judiciary Committee and postpone a markup after Lofgren threatened to force votes on several FISA-related amendments. So far, a new markup has not been announced.

Schiff indicated an understanding has been reached on the issue of metadata, but that they are still figuring out other issues like the amicus provisions.

“We’re trying to figure out what’s the capacity of the amicus, but also how to weed out those cases that are truly routine that don’t present any novel issues, making sure that that’s a real distinction,” he said.

He said one area of disagreement is whether some provisions could overly constrain the gathering of intelligence.

“Part of the issue is whether we use the FISA process to impose constraints that are not even present in the criminal law process and that is a philosophical difference that may be driving some of the division on particular provisions,” he said.

Jayapal, when asked about the state of negotiations, also said there’s more work to be done.

“So far, we are just not there but we are continuing to talk and hope to see new proposals that address the areas we have raised,” Jayapal said, adding that she too hopes to reauthorize by the deadline.