Justice Dept. won't budge on terms of intelligence law

AP News
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Posted: Dec 22, 2017 6:12 PM

WASHINGTON (AP) — The Trump administration is unwilling to compromise with lawmakers demanding changes to the soon-to-expire foreign intelligence collection program, the Justice Department's No. 2 official said Friday, generating further uncertainty about the future of the law intelligence agencies see as vital in helping track foreign spies, terrorists, weapons traffickers and cyber criminals.

Congress must reauthorize the program in its entirety to protect the public from such dangers, Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein said in an interview with The Associated Press.

"Why should we compromise when the security of American citizens is at stake?" Rosenstein said.

Congressional Democrats and Republicans agree the law, which gives the U.S. government authority to spy on foreigners located outside the U.S., is invaluable in helping thwart threats. But a number of bipartisan lawmakers and privacy advocates are taking an equally hard stance, demanding greater protections for the communications of Americans that are incidentally picked up during electronic dragnets.

Lawmakers included a short-term extension of the program, known as Section 702 of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, in a spending bill to avert a government shutdown. But the stalemate ensures that rigorous debate over the law will continue early next year.

Sens. Rand Paul, R-Ky., and Ron Wyden, D-Ore., are among the toughest opponents. They say investigators should have to get a warrant before querying foreign intelligence information.

"I will actively oppose and filibuster any long-term extension of warrantless searches of American citizens," Paul tweeted this week. "I'll be right there with you," Wyden tweeted in response.

Rosenstein said that argument is misinformed.

"We don't think this should be complicated. People need to look at it in a clear-eyed way," he said.

He also expressed frustration that senators haven't confirmed Trump's nominee to lead the Justice Department's National Security Division, John Demers, a former Bush administration official who helped draft Section 702 in 2008. Under Wyden's questioning during his confirmation hearing in October, Demers said he did not believe authorities needed a warrant to access information already in the government's possession.

"We need our people in place, and we need the tools that Congress has provided to us in order to protect America," Rosenstein said.