FBI, CIA can access your browsing history without a warrant, thanks to Senate vote

Ø  On Wednesday, US senate voted to allow law enforcement agencies, such as the FBI and CIA, look into your browser history without a warrant.

Ø  The addition was drafted was Senate majority leader Mitch McConnell as part of a reauthorization of the Patriot Act.

Ø  Senators Ron Wyden and Steve Daines made efforts to remove the expanded powers from the bill by inserting privacy protection amendment into the Patriot Act. However, the amendment failed by just one vote.

Ø  59 out of 100 senators supported the amendment, but Senate’s rules require 60 votes to pass the amendment. Many senators who would have voted in favor of the amendment didn’t show up, including Bernie Sanders, Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.), Patty Murray and Ben Sasse (R-Neb.).

Ø  The vote comes as a blow to the privacy advocates. “It’s [Patriot Act] one of the worst laws passed in the last century, and there is zero evidence that the mass surveillance programs it enables have ever saved a single human life,” Evan Greer, the deputy director of Fight For The Future, told Motherboard.

Ø  The vote comes at a time when the use of the internet has drastically increased as people are staying at home because of the coronavirus outbreak.

Ø  The Senate, however, did pass another amendment that allows judges overseeing FISA (Foreign Intelligence Surveillance) Act requests seek information from independent experts.

View Analysis

Left View

Political Influencers Are Left Vulnerable 

The timing of the USA Freedom Reauthorization Act, and a major provision of the bill, are of major concern.

And that's aside from the many who are vulnerable due to the legislation.

The bill comes as the masses are using the Internet much more, as they still must stay home due to COVID-19.

The legislation fully authorizes law enforcement agencies, without a warrant, to have means of entry to information that comes from Americans surfing the web.

Law enforcement already can be aggressive and corrupt.

Let's look no further than the Ahmaud Arbery case, where former law enforcement officer Gregory McMichael has been charged with the murder and aggravated assault of Arbery. The Glynn County Police department, accountable for the first probe into Arbery’s death, is well-known for being a corrupt agency, with scandals like inappropriate sexual contact with informants in a narcotics probe and lying to the Georgia Bureau of Investigation to interfering with probes into police-involved shootings. And the initial police report features only McMichael's account of the case, according to MoveOn.

Then, we're talking about letting law enforcement surveil without a warrant.

So now, law enforcement can easily charge advocates, community organizers, labor organizers, journalists, bloggers and others.
I was already concerned to learn that Homeland Security was going to put together a database of journalists and bloggers. (And that news got out more than two years ago. Further, given that I get unasked-for emails from the White House, it seems the Trump administration is rather aware of these reporters and opinionators.)

It's an impassioned Trump administration that has been empowered. We know it already does not like those who speak against the administration and the Homeland Security example is just one. And there are plenty of political influencers against Trump. A storm may be coming and the influencers would take the brunt.

And, regarding the bill, there isn't any proof that surveillance operations have preserved anyone.


I absolutely agree that government agencies are far from bastions of responsibility, and granting the power to the FBI and CIA to investigate search history without a warrant seems to be like an awful move. But I reject the basic premise of my colleague from the Left and I wonder if his position is influenced more from confirmation bias than objective analysis.

In his eighth paragraph he seems eager to place blame on the Trump administration (without evidence or relevant connections to back it up) and argues that law enforcement can “easily charge advocates, community organizers, labor organizers, journalists, bloggers, and others.” I am curious to know what exactly Rhett thinks that law enforcement can now charge them for that was at all different from before. Regardless, I fail to see how this argument either defends or supports the legislation or is even relevant. The crimes that these people can be charged with haven’t changed, nor has the nature of America’s justice system. And the point Rhett brings up about getting unasked-for emails from the White House is only evidence that he doesn’t know how to use the unsubscribe or spam box features of his email, not that the White House is keeping tags on journalists or bloggers.

The ninth paragraph of my colleague’s argument is also incomprehensible, and provides me with no understanding of his actual argument. Is he suggesting that the Trump administration is attempting to gather the power it needs to weaponize the intelligence community against political rivals? Is he suggesting that a storm is coming where this abuse of power may be revealed? If so, may I suggest that he open his eyes to the fact that this already happened, but with the Trump administration, with the Obama administration, as evidenced by the recent revelations in the Michael Flynn case.

I believe my colleague is suffering from an intense confirmation bias that requires him to focus on affirming his priors and not actually analyzing this story for what it is. It would be more useful to hear his actual arguments for or against this new legislation.

Right View

Bad news for all privacy supporters  

The Wyden-Daines amendment, sponsored by Democrat Senator Ron Wyden and Republican Senator Steve Daines, failed to pass by one vote, a vote that several Democratic Senators would have voted yes for had they been there, including Lamar Alexander, who was quarantined and Bernie Sanders who wasn't able to vote for unspecified reasons.

Wyden-Daines was intended to vote on continuing the so called 'USA Freedom Act', which were a set of laws meant to address blatant privacy abuses of the Patriot Act that critics had been pointing to for years (bolstered by sensational leaks by Edward Snowden). When the USA Freedom Act came up for renewal this year (along with parts of the original Patriot Act) the House passed it with additional language to further protect citizens from abuse and then sent it to the Senate. The Senate did not get to it until after the USA Freedom Act expired, essentially giving the Senate majority wider control over the issue.

Given this new start, Mitch McConnell and Senators from both sides of the isle (surprise) quickly voted to reauthorize the expired parts of the Patriot Act as-is (these restored Patriot Act laws had previously expired in 2015 but were temporarily restored in 2019 until March 2020, thus requiring the Senate vote, independent of reauthorizing the USA Freedom Act). The Wyden-Daines amendment would have therefore restored the USA Freedom Act to continue its oversight and limits on spying activities, including warrantless electronic spying and searches on a person's web browser data.

Now that the Wyden-Daines amendment fell short by 1 measly vote, there are no such protections and we are all worse off for it. Perhaps surprisingly, the continued support for the Patriot act without limits had backers from both parties.

Ironically, the FISA abuse that Wyden-Daines would have curtailed also allowed the Obama administration to get a FISA warrant to spy
on President Trumps 2016 presidential campaign, a fact that only relatively recently came to light.

For lawmakers of both parties this is a double edged sword and extremely dangerous for sustaining our democracy. This is a topic that affects everyone.


An Attack On American Individualism

This is the age of the internet. More then ever before people are living portions of their lives entirely digitally. Coronavirus restrictions have internet usage at an all time high, and in a globalised world there is no greater tool for communication and learning than the world wide web. It is where we do business, talk with friends, shop, pursue our interests, and express our opinions.

And so, internet privacy is akin to personal privacy, and maybe even more so as we allay our thoughts and minds onto our computers whether in conversation, writing, or google searches. For the senate to pass a bill allowing complete freedom for law enforcement to search everyone’s internet history without a warrant is a shocking afront to privacy concerns in the United States of America.

And maybe it isn’t such a shock. After all who could really be surprised. As my colleagues have pointed out this bill comes on the tails of the Patriot Act and the expiration of the USA freedom act. Chris points out that the USA freedom act was up for renewal this year. Instead of voting on the renewal of this protections act and passing additional language to protect more Americans from illegal (well, only if its legislated) law enforcement searches into their private spheres, the senate delayed the vote until it expired. As Chris says this gave them complete freedom to craft a new bill. Enter the new powers granted to law enforcement.

It entirely eludes me how this can be condoned by anyone, let alone receive a passing vote in the senate. America is a country of individualism, where we believe in the ethic and hard work of the individual to make a difference in this world. Now the individual becomes entirely undermined, stripped naked by any law enforcement official with computer access.

Chris is right, this is a danger to all Americans, and is a non-political issue. This is an issue of ethics, and it seems, as life goes on, that ETHICS is the one thing most lacking in law enforcement