Senators Wyden And Heinrich Speak Out Against Expanding FBI's Ability To Warrantlessly Spy On Your Communications
from the don't-allow-it dept
We’ve been writing for a while now how the FBI has been trying to rewrite a key part of the PATRIOT Act to massively expand its ability to use National Security Letters (NSLs) to get email and browser information with no warrant and no oversight. Despite the fact that the FBI was asking for this just days before the Orlando shooting, right after it, a bunch of Senators, led by John McCain, used the opportunity to fast track that legislative change, cynically pointing to the Orlando shooting as a reason why it’s needed (despite it having nothing whatsoever to do with that). That effort failed, but just barely — and it’s expected to be brought up again shortly for another vote.
Senators Ron Wyden and Martin Heinrich are trying to convince people that this is a bad, bad idea. They’ve written a short but compelling article on how this is a massive abuse of privacy, and why the FBI absolutely does not need this power.
Given what web browsing history can reveal, there is little information that could be more intimate. If you know that a person is visiting the website of a mental health professional, or a substance-abuse support group, or a particular political organization, or a particular dating site, you know a tremendous amount of private and personal information about him or her. That?s what you get when you can get access to their web browsing history without a court order.??
They note that there are real threats, but this change in the law won’t help to stop those threats. Indeed, the FBI already has the ability to get this information — it just needs to submit to a tiny bit of oversight:
But the FBI already has at least two separate ways they can quickly obtain these electronic records with court oversight.? ?First, under the Patriot Act?s section 215, the FBI can get a court order from the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court to obtain a suspect?s electronic records. The president?s surveillance review group, which included former top intelligence officials, said this kind of court oversight should be required for this kind of information.? ?Second, in emergency situations where the FBI believes it needs to move immediately, it already has the authority to get these records first, and then settle up with the court afterward. This authority comes from section 102 of the USA FREEDOM Act, which is based on language Sen. Wyden authored and we both strongly supported.? ?
This effort to expand the FBI’s surveillance powers should be a non-starter and it’s depressing that so many Senators are willing to grant the FBI near total freedom to spy on our electronic records without a warrant. Given the FBI’s history of abusing its surveillance powers, sometimes for political gain, shouldn’t Congress be restricting such powers, rather than expanding them?
Stay tuned, later today, on the Techdirt Podcast, we’ll have Senator Wyden discussing why this is so problematic.