This week, the Senate passed legislation that reauthorizes the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) after votes on three amendments aimed at enhancing privacy protections. One amendment, which would prevent warrantless surveillance of Internet usage, failed by only one vote.
On May 13, the Senate rejected an amendment offered by Sen. Ron Wyden (D-OR) and Steve Daines (R-MT). Here is how VoteSpotter described that amendment:
To amend the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act to end the power for government agents to access internet browser and search history without a warrant during foreign intelligence and terrorism investigations.
This bill failed by only one vote. It had 59 senators who supported it, and it needed 60 to overcome procedural hurdles. Four senators were absent during the vote: Sens. Lamar Alexander (R-TN), Bernie Sanders (I-VT), Ben Sasse (R-NE), and Patty Murray (D-WA).
The FISA process has drawn scrutiny from both conservatives and liberals who are concerned about what they say is a lack of checks on government power to conduct investigations. They argue that without more safeguards, the FBI has vast powers to investigate anyone it deems connected to foreign intelligence or foreign terrorism.
Part of this investigative authority includes demanding that internet companies turn over information about a target’s internet browsing history and search terms. Since this information is held by a third party, not an individual directly, courts have ruled that the government can obtain them without a warrant in some circumstances. The Wyden-Daines amendment would have prohibited this.
President Trump has expressed his anger over the FISA process many times in the past due to it being used to investigate his 2016 campaign.
Do you think that, in the course of a terrorism investigation, the FBI should be able to access someone’s internet browsing history without a warrant?