March 10, 2020 / 10:12 PM / 3 months ago

U.S. House leaders reach deal to extend surveillance program

WASHINGTON, March 10 (Reuters) - Democratic and Republican leaders of the U.S. House of Representatives reached an agreement on Tuesday that would extend a divisive set of government surveillance tools, a major boost for efforts to reauthorize the program before it expires on Sunday.

Democratic House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Republican leader Kevin McCarthy, as well as the leaders of the House Intelligence and Judiciary Committees, reached an agreement to reauthorize three expiring provisions of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, known as FISA, congressional aides said.

While the deal is a major step toward renewing the program, its fate was not immediately clear since the Republican-led U.S. Senate was not involved in the process.

Aides to Republican President Donald Trump, who would have to sign any legislation into law, did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

The domestic surveillance rules have become a flash point between Democrats and Republicans because Trump has pushed to change them in the aftermath of the investigation of Russian efforts to interfere in U.S. elections.

Some of Trump’s fellow Republicans have been especially skeptical of the program because of an FBI FISA warrant for Carter Page, a former Trump campaign adviser.

Privacy advocates, including liberal Democrats and libertarian-leaning Republicans, are fiercely critical of any surveillance program. But security-minded lawmakers say it is an important tool that can be used to keep Americans safe.

Representative Jerrold Nadler, chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, told a Rules Committee hearing on the agreement on Tuesday that the agreement would help rein in abuses of FISA, which established a secret court for surveillance cases.

“This bill is an important package of reforms,” he said.

Reporting by Patricia Zengerle; Additional reporting by Richard Cowan; Editing by Peter Cooney

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