Christopher Wray, director of the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), called on lawmakers to extend warrantless surveillance powers that he says supplies the president with much of the intelligence he receives daily.

The Senate Judiciary Committee heard Mr. Wray’s arguments and questioned him about how the statute was used and whether it violates Americans’ constitutionally protected rights.

As part of their scrutiny of the FBI and Justice Department, which they assert has been weaponized against conservatives, many Republicans have rejected a renewal of the provision.

Section 702 of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) is currently set to expire on Dec. 31.

Under the section, U.S. officials are authorized to conduct warrantless surveillance on foreign persons outside the United States. Section 702 was added to FISA in 2008 as part of security upgrades after the Sept. 11 attacks in 2001.

“Section 702 only permits the targeting of non-United States persons who are reasonably believed to be located outside the United States. United States persons and anyone in the United States may not be targeted under Section 702,” according to

Mr. Wray pointed to hostile regimes in arguing that the section be maintained.

‘Form of Unilateral Disarmament’

“When it comes to foreign adversaries like Iran, whose actions across a whole host of threats have grown more brazen—seeking to assassinate high-level officials, kidnap dissidents, and conduct cyber attacks here in the United States—or the People’s Republic of China, which poses a generational threat to our economic and national security, stripping the FBI of its [Section] 702 authorities would be a form of unilateral disarmament,” Mr. Wray said in his opening remarks.

Mr. Wray also asserted that Section 702 is “key to our ability to detect a foreign terrorist organization overseas directing an operative here to carry out an attack in our own backyard.”

“Given the critical importance of [Section] 702, we’re committed to being good stewards of our authorities,” he said. “To that end, I’ve ordered a whole host of changes to address unacceptable compliance incidents.”

In his introductory statements, Mr. Wray observed that prior to the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, “well-intentioned policymakers had made the choice to build a wall preventing access to national security information sitting in our and our partners’ holdings.”

He stressed that “allowing [Section] 702 to lapse, or amending it in a way that undermines its effectiveness would be akin to laying bricks to rebuild another, pre-9/11-style wall.”

“As the threats from foreign adversaries to our homeland continue to evolve, the agility and effectiveness of [Section] 702 will be essential to the FBI’s ability—and really our mandate from the American people—to keep them safe for years to come, and we owe it to them to make sure we’ve got the tools we need to do that,” he said.

Several lawmakers, including Sen. Mike Lee (R-Utah), asked about the use of the application on American citizens.

Mr. Lee said the agency should be bound by warrant requirements. The agency is asking to breach Americans’ Fourth Amendment rights, he said.

After identifying contentious instances when the FBI did not receive a court order to search for information on suspects, Mr. Lee said, “You have the audacity to come here, and you’ve told us that adding a warrant requirement to [Section] 702 even for queries involving U.S. persons on U.S. soil, that this would amount to some sort of unilateral disarmament, that you have a lot of gall, sir.”

Mr. Wray requested time to respond to that accusation. He said that the instances cited by Mr. Lee took place before widespread reform was implemented inside the agency.

Conversely, however, Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas) supported the extension of the FISA powers, saying he considers Section 702 to be “one of the most important laws that the American people have never heard of.”

House Panel Recommends Reforms

In the House of Representatives, Republicans have been vocal in their disapproval of the FBI’s “widespread violations” of the law, including warrantless surveillance of U.S. citizens. A panel led by Rep. Mike Turner (R-Ohio) has proposed significant changes to FISA’s Section 702 authority.

The Majority FISA Working Group of the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence released their 73-page report on Nov. 16, outlining 45 suggested changes to curb potential abuse by the FBI and other agencies.

“Our report outlines reforms necessary for FISA’s reauthorization. The United States is currently at its greatest risk of a terrorist attack in nearly a decade. We cannot afford to let this critical national security tool expire,” Mr. Turner said, according to the committee’s press release on the report.

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