White House Cybersecurity Coordinator Rob Joyce said Wednesday the administration will have to compromise with Congress on legislation reauthorizing U.S. intelligence agencies to conduct surveillance on foreigners abroad without a warrant.
The Trump administration has pushed against changes to the sweeping surveillance program, referred to as Section 702, but Joyce said a permanent, clean reauthorization is unlikely before its legal basis, the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA), expires at the end of the year.
"I think we got past several months ago of whether we should have 702 or not, I think we've got good support on the Hill," Joyce said in remarks at the Aspen Institute in Washington, D.C. "Right now, we're debating about the edges of how it will be executed."
Under existing law, U.S. intelligence agencies can spy on foreigners abroad who communicate through American phone and internet providers, which can lead to incidental eavesdropping on Americans. The FBI can then search the database of data collected under Section 702 for information on Americans suspected of a crime without first obtaining a warrant.
A bipartisan coalition of lawmakers on the Senate Judiciary Committee put forth legislation last month to impose new restrictions on the FBI's ability to query the Section 702 database for information on Americans who communicate with foreign targets. The bill would have imposed a warrant requirement with certain exceptions in cases involving espionage or terrorism.
The Trump administration has pressed lawmakers to pass a clean bill that would permanently implement Section 702 without changes, arguing the program's importance to safeguarding national security.
Joyce said a warrant requirement would slowdown law enforcement's ability to gather potentially crucial information in emergency situations such as a terrorist attack.
"Operationally we don't find that viable," he said, explaining the drawn-out, bureaucratic process of obtaining a warrant. "That's not a robust system in an emergency and then it has a chilling effect on the day-to-day of counterterrorism activities."
Joyce said the White House has been working with lawmakers to "try to get the best bill possible," but predicted the final version would likely be a compromise between the administration and Congress.