Senate Rejects Amendment That Would Have Limited Government’s Authority To Monitor Internet History

AP Photo/Susan Walsh

 

On Wednesday, the Senate voted on legislation related to surveillance and the FISA process. Lawmakers voted to reject an amendment that would have kept law enforcement agencies from obtaining a person’s internet search history without a warrant. The legislation, which missed the 60-vote threshold by one vote, was sponsored by Sens. Steve Daines (R-MT) and Ron Wyden (D-OR).

The amendment was a part of legislation intended to reauthorize provisions regarding intelligence gathering under the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA). The amendment received 59 “yea” votes, which means that it was just short of defeating a potential filibuster.

Ten Democrats and 27 Republicans voted against the measure. Breitbart News published a list of these lawmakers here.  Four senators, including Bernie Sanders (I-VT), Patty Murray (D-WA), Ben Sasse (R-NE), and Lamar Alexander (R-TN), were absent from the proceedings.

The amendment was related to Section 215 of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, which compels phone companies and internet service providers to provide its customers’ data to law enforcement agencies if it is “vaguely” relevant to a terrorism or counterespionage case. Sen. Daines explained his reasoning for the amendment, pointing out how officials attempted to use the FISA process to railroad President Donald Trump during the 2016 election.

He said:

“We saw what a handful of scornful government bureaucrats did to President Trump when they abuse FISA to serve their political motives. Our own government spied on an American citizen, a political adviser to then-candidate Trump with no oversight. And what happened to President Trump can happen to anybody, for any purpose. And that is a very serious problem.”

Wyden noted that failing to pass the amendment could lead to the government surveilling innocent Americans. He argued:

“The typical American may think to themselves, I’ve got nothing to worry about. I’ve done nothing wrong. The government has no reason to suspect me of anything. Why should I worry? Unfortunately, the question is not whether you did anything wrong. The question is whether a government agent believes they have the right to look at your web searches.”

This is the type of legislation that our lawmakers pass when the American public is distracted. While the nation is focused on the COVID-19 outbreak and Obamagate, which are undoubtedly important stories, our legislative branch is hard at work passing laws that could empower the government to further violate our rights.

The fact that so-called conservative lawmakers were willing to allow the state to have this level of power is disturbing. Perhaps we shouldn’t wait until the nation is back to normal to start holding our elected officials accountable.

 

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