Senate Talking Points Say Warrantless Collection Of Internet Use Data Keeps Terrorists From Killing Us
from the it-doesn't-say-HOW-it-does-this dept
The Senate tried and failed to erect a warrant requirement for the FBI’s collection of US citizens’ internet browsing data. The amendment to the FISA reauthorization fell one vote short — something that could have been avoided by having any of the four missing Senate supporters show up and actually support the thing. The House has a chance to pass this amendment before sending the bill to the president, but they’ve decided to engage in some unproductive infighting instead.
As it stands now, it still stands the way it has always stood: the FBI can get this information without a warrant. If we can’t have this amendment, maybe we can have some answers about the FBI’s use of this power. Senator Ron Wyden has sent a letter to the Director of National Intelligence asking how often government agencies have spied on Americans’ internet usage. The answer will probably arrive sometime between “years from now” and “never,” given how enthused the DNI usually is about discussing domestic surveillance originating from the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act.
Since there doesn’t seem to be any good reason to allow the FBI to continue this warrantless collection, surveillance supporters in Washington have decided to craft some bad ones. Dell Cameron reports for Gizmodo that certain Senators think a warrant requirement allows the terrorists to win.
Requiring federal agents to have “probable cause” to eavesdrop on the internet activities of American citizens poses a direct threat to national security and would force the FBI to stand by while terrorist plots unfold on U.S. soil, according to a leaked copy of talking points distributed to Senate lawmakers this month.
Those talking points appear to have originated in Sen. Mitch McConnell’s office and began circulating prior to the Senate vote on the FISA reauthorization. The talking points aren’t very convincing, though. As Cameron points out, they’re riddled with legal errors and give the appearance that the author(s) believes ginning up a little fear should be all that’s needed to sway legislators who still think the Fourth Amendment should mean something.
At one point, the document erroneously claims that legally requiring the FBI to get a warrant to view U.S. citizens’ web browser data would hinder federal agents from investigating a “known foreign” spy caught photographing a power plant on U.S. soil “over the course of several days.” In this hypothetical, the spy goes on to blow up the Hoover Dam as helpless FBI agents presumably observe from a distance.
Whoa if true. One wonders how the FBI ever manages to investigate anyone. Of course, at some point in the several days between the detainment and the eventual blowing up of stuff the FBI could probably have obtained a search warrant to collect this information. Not that it would necessarily need to since this hypothetical involves a “known foreign spy” the FBI already has under surveillance and whose internet data could be legally obtained from NSA collections without doing anything at all to the Fourth Amendment.
Somehow, the talking points manage to get even dumber than this.
Unbelievably, the leaked documents go on to claim that search warrants for browser data would effectively mean the end of all domestic internet surveillance by the U.S. government: “Internet web browsing and search history information comprise data that forms the building blocks for national security investigations,” it says. “To require probable cause for the Government to obtain the Internet data effectively prohibits any Internet data collection.”
Let’s see if we have this straight: seeking a warrant will irrevocably terminate an investigation. Limiting the government to things it has probable cause to basically sets fire to the national security fabric, leaving us completely at the mercy of terrorists, domestic and otherwise. It’s as if the person writing this believes Constitutional rights and protections are something the government only extends to violent criminals and if they’re respected, the end result is dead Americans.
I guess we should be grateful for these Senators and their efforts. After all, if we, the general public, hadn’t allowed terrorists to attack the US back in 2001, we wouldn’t be in the position we are now: being warrantlessly surveilled by our own government for our own good.