The Senate narrowly rejected an amendment that would give the government warrantless access to internet browsing histories, internet records and email metadata. The Amendment was one vote short of the required 60 votes necessary to pass. Supporters of the bill, such as the FBI and Obama administration, claim the bill will allow the government to fight terrorist threats more efficiently while opponents argue that the proposal is a clear violation of a citizens right to privacy and due process.
The amendment failed when Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) switched his vote to “no” at the last minute to allow reconsideration in the near future. The amendment would allow the FBI to use national security letters to coerce companies into turning over “electronic communications transactional records”, or ECTR, that they claim are relevant to any terrorism or espionage investigations. Critics point out that the FBI can already obtain ECTR by convincing a judge there is a reasonable link to a terrorism case or, in the case of emergencies, securing the information and seeking a retroactive court review.
Supporters of the amendment are using the recent terrorist attack in Orlando, where a homegrown terrorist killed 49 people at a gay nightclub, to justify the bill. They claim that the FBI could have monitored the shooter’s, Omar Mateen, email and prevented the attack. Opponents of the bill have countered this argument by pointing out that Mateen was on the FBI’s terrorist watch-list at one point but was removed because he was deemed to pose no threat and would most likely not have been considered.
While the Obama administration continues to push for the bill tech firms and privacy advocates argue that the FBI is simply capitalizing on remnant fears from the Orlando attack to expand their surveillance powers and infringe on American citizen’s privacy. Opponents of the bill, such as Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.), claim that the amendment is a clear violation of the Fourth Amendment. He went on to argue that the USA Freedom Act of 2015 already grants access to ECTR. He went on to state that the Freedom Act:
“allows the FBI to demand all of these records in an emergency and then go get court approval after the fact. So unless you’re opposed to court oversight, even after the fact, there’s no need to support this amendment.”
Opponents of the bill believe it is nothing but a thinly-veiled attempt to invade the privacy of law abiding citizens while using national security and terrorism as a red herring to distract citizens from the true intent.