Lawmakers Leave Washington Without Renewing Expired Surveillance Powers
Intelligence and law-enforcement experts warn the FBI now lacks a critical tool
By Dustin Volz
March 27, 2020 9:07 pm ET
WASHINGTON—House lawmakers left town Friday after passing a roughly $2 trillion dollar coronavirus relief package without voting to renew a set of intelligence powers that expired earlier this month, meaning surveillance tools used by the FBI to pursue terrorism suspects will likely remain defunct for at least several more weeks.
The surveillance powers, originally enacted after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks have lapsed before due to congressional inaction, but only for about a day. They expired on March 15.
The prospect of such a prolonged termination of national-security authorities has alarmed current and former intelligence and law-enforcement officials, who warned that the Federal Bureau of Investigation especially now lacks a critical tool it uses to access a wide variety of business records from companies deemed relevant to ongoing terrorism or espionage investigations. The other expired powers allow investigators to easily wiretap a suspect who has switched phones and surveil a so-called lone wolf terrorist who doesn’t possess any discernible ties to a foreign terrorist organization.
Privacy advocates, including some in Congress, have countered that none of the intelligence authorities that have lapsed are critically important. The business records provision, for example, allows for investigations that were taking place before March 15 to continue unencumbered…..