Congress must consider it a priority to pass legislation in the next few months reauthorizing the U.S. intelligence agencies to eavesdrop without a court warrant on communications of foreigners who are located overseas, including at times their exchanges with Americans. The legislation, Section 702 of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, is of bedrock importance to the National Security Agency. Still, while giving the law a new lease, Congress ought to insist on additional protections for Americans in the use of the Section 702 database.

Under existing law, the FBI can query Section 702 information for emails and phone-call transcripts of Americans suspected of a crime, without obtaining a warrant. This is a loophole allowing the FBI to go after information that, if sought from other sources, would require a warrant. A bipartisan group of lawmakers from the House Judiciary Committee, led by Chairman Bob Goodlatte, R-Va., and Vice Chairman John Conyers, D-Mich., have proposed a reauthorization for six years that would effectively close this back door. They would allow the FBI to make such queries only when a warrant was in hand.

Privacy advocates want even tighter restrictions in the law, and we trust Congress will examine these ideas. But the goal should be to put this entire matter on a sustainable, bipartisan foundation so that the intelligence agencies can pursue their vital tasks knowing the rules.