A bipartisan amendment that would have prohibited law enforcement agencies, such as the FBI, from obtaining the web browsing and internet search histories of Americans without a warrant failed to pass in the U.S. Senate on Wednesday by a single vote.
Twenty-seven Republicans and 10 Democrats voted against the amendment to H.R. 6172, which will reauthorize lapsed surveillance powers under the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA). The amendment offered up by Sen. Ron Wyden, Democrat of Oregon, and Sen. Steve Daines, Republican of Montana, would have forced the government to get a warrant before obtaining the internet search history of Americans.
Under Section 215 of the Act, the government can compel phone companies and internet service providers to turn over such data, if it is deemed vaguely “relevant” to a terrorism or counterespionage case.
In a speech on the Senate floor ahead of the vote, Sen. Wyden questioned whether law-abiding Americans should have to “worry about their government looking over their shoulders” at all times of the day.
“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?” Wyden said. “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.”
“The warrantless collection of Americans’ web browsing history,” added Wyden, “offers endless opportunities for abuse.”
Wyden and Daines had mostly overlapping reasons for wanting to change the law. But even where their motivations diverge, both’s interest is inevitably served. Each, for example, holds up President Trump as a primary reason of why their amendment is sorely needed. Each lawmakers’ impetus is opposite, but would still ring true if one stood in the other’s shoes.
Wyden, for instance, pointed to Trump’s frequent calls for investigations into his political enemies and noted the attorney general, William Barr, had “injected himself” into investigations that personally affect Trump’s political interests; a likely nod to the Justice Department’s recent bid to exonerate Michael Flynn, who pleaded guilty in December 2017 to lying to the FBI about his conversations with Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak. (A U.S. district judge put a hold on that effort Tuesday, saying he expects third-parties will seek to intervene in the case.)
Handing the agents of a future Democratic president broad, new surveillance powers, particularly given the moment’s deep partisan mistrust, obviously does nothing to serve the Republican Party’s interests. Who would disagree?