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Conyers, Reyes Introduce FISA Update

Two prominent House Democrats released their update of the foreign surveillance law Tuesday that lapses at the end of this year, marking the next phase in a congressional debate over warrantless wiretapping, both domestically and abroad.

Judiciary Chairman John Conyers Jr. (D-Mich.) and Intelligence Chairman Silvestre Reyes (D-Texas) introduced legislation Tuesday, updating changes Congress made to the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act over the summer despite broad opposition from Democrats in the House, who were concerned the update could trample of the civil liberties of U.S. citizens.

Facing pressure from the White House and Senate negotiators to move an update before a key deadline lapsed over the summer, Democratic leaders in the House agreed to pass it only after the administration agreed to a sunset that would end the program's authority after five months.  Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) then tapped Conyers and Reyes to draft an update that House Democrats would accept.

Their legislation would allow intelligence officials to monitor phone calls and e-mails made between foreign nationals outside the United States and would require the special FISA court to issue individual court warrants to target anyone inside the country, both of which are in the current law, according to a summary of the bill released by the Judiciary Committee.

It would also establish protections that were not in the stopgap bill Congress approved over the summer. These include a procedural review by the FISA court to ensure the program only targets people outside the United States, allowing a 45-day window for the court to conduct this review after surveillance begins.