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Catch up on coronavirus stories and special reports, curated by Mike Allen everyday

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The headquarters of the National Security Agency. Photo: Patrick Semansky / AP

Congress is under the gun to reauthorize a major surveillance law in a debate that has been overshadowed by other major policy fights, like net neutrality and the investigation into online Russian election meddling.

Why it matters: The law — known as Section 702 — expires at the end of the year. Intelligence agencies say it would be ultimately catastrophic if it isn't reauthorized. Privacy-minded lawmakers and advocates, however, say that if it is reauthorized without reforms it will perpetuate a sprawling surveillance system that ensnares Americans' information without a warrant.

What the law does

The law is used by the intelligence community to justify the warrantless surveillance of the electronic communications of foreign nationals located abroad.

The debate

Those agencies have pushed aggressively to renew the law without any reforms. But privacy advocates inside and outside of government say that the programs under the law pick up communications belonging to Americans, too.

They've also raised concerns about the way information obtained without a warrant under the law can be used by the FBI in criminal – rather than national security – cases.

What's next?
  • There are several bills in Congress that would keep programs under the law going. Some would make significant changes to surveillance authorized by the law, while others have been met with an apoplectic reaction from privacy advocates and their supporters in tech who say these bills could make things worse.
  • One of those measures could be attached to a must-pass spending bill or move on its own. Lawmakers could also pass a short-term extension to the law and kick the can down the road.
  • Intelligence officials think, however, that they can continue surveillance under the law for some time even if the law doesn't get reauthorized by the end of the year.

Go deeper

Updated 3 mins ago - Politics & Policy

Harris breaks tie as Senate proceeds with lengthy debate on COVID relief bill

Photo: Caroline Brehman/CQ-Roll Call, Inc via Getty Images)

The Senate on Thursday voted 51-50 — with Vice President Kamala Harris breaking the tie — to proceed to debate on President Biden's $1.9 trillion coronavirus rescue package, likely setting up a final vote this weekend.

The state of play: Sen. Ron Johnson (R-Wis.) forced Senate clerks to read the entire 628-page bill on the floor, which took nearly 11 hours and lasted until 2:05 a.m. Friday. The Senate then adjourned and is expected to reconvene at 9 a.m. to debate the bill before considering amendments.

1 hour ago - Health

Cuomo advisers reportedly altered July COVID-19 nursing homes report

New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo. Photo: Seth Wenig/AFP via Getty Images

New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo's advisers successfully pushed state health officials to exclude certain data on the number of COVID-19 nursing home deaths from a July report, the Wall Street Journal reported late Thursday.

Why it matters: The changes resulted in a "significant undercount of the death toll attributed to the state’s most vulnerable population," the WSJ wrote.

Ro Khanna wary of Biden approach on Middle East

Rep. Ro Khanna. Photo: Cody Glenn/Sportsfile for Web Summit via Getty Images

An outspoken progressive Democrat is wary of President Biden’s approach to the Middle East, arguing it’s like “conceding defeat of the aspiration” to win a Nobel Peace Prize.

Why it matters: A number of members of Biden’s own party dislike his Middle East strategy, as his administration signals the region is no longer the priority it was for President Obama and his predecessors.

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