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Montana's congressional delegation leery of reauthorizing surveillance bill

by KATE HESTON
Daily Inter Lake | April 19, 2024 12:00 AM

Opponents of Congress’ reauthorization of Section 702 of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act last week include Montana Reps. Ryan Zinke and Matt Rosendale.

The provision, enacted by Congress in 2008, allows the government to indirectly collect intelligence on U.S. citizens without a warrant while surveilling foreign actors overseas. Zinke and Rosendale were among 147 representatives to vote against reauthorization on April 12, though the measure ultimately passed with 273 supporters in the House.

The House’s legislation would extend reauthorization for two years.

Technically, the section only authorizes the U.S. to keep surveillance on non-Americans overseas who are considered a threat. If those targets communicate with U.S. citizens, however, then they become fair game as well. 

“Where I stand … is I have never had a problem collecting data, but when that data rests on a U.S. citizen … at that point in time it's a constitutional matter on the Fourth Amendment and I believe you need a warrant,” Zinke told the Inter Lake. 

A group of Republicans proposed an amendment that would require warrants to be issued prior to analyzing data belonging to an American citizen, but it failed on a split vote.

Zinke and Rosendale’s opposition against Section 702 is reflected in the views of Montana’s senators. Though the House has moved ahead with reauthorization, the Senate has a Friday deadline to follow suit or the authorization will lapse. 

In November, Republican Sen. Steve Daines cosponsored the Government Surveillance Reform Act, seeking to reform Section 702 and establish protections for Montanans whose private information is gathered. That bill has not moved out of the Senate. 

Democratic Sen. Jon Tester, ahead of the Senate vote, said that he, like his Republican counterpart, also opposes the reauthorization. 

“I do not support reauthorizing FISA Section 702 in its current form and call on the Senate to take action to stop warrantless searches by the government and law enforcement agencies to protect Montanans’ freedom and privacy,” Tester said in a statement. 

Reporter Kate Heston can be reached at kheston@dailyinterlake.com or 758-4459.