As part of its continuing push for ever greater surveillance powers, the FBI is hoping that a new bill, known as the 2017 Intelligence Authorization Act, will be enacted into law, as the proposed legislation makes it possible for the agency to read emails without a warrant. It’s already been given Senate Intelligence Committee approval and will next be considered by the Senate as a whole.
“The threat of terrorism remains high, so it’s vital that we provide intelligence agencies with all the resources they need to prevent attacks both at home and abroad,” said the vice chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, Dianne Feinstein, echoing the FBI’s reasoning behind the bill.
Essentially, the bill would extend current FBI powers authorized by the Patriot Act, which allows the government to force telecoms companies to hand over phone records on individuals suspected of terrorism and other crimes. Known as a National Security Letter, recipients are not allowed to speak about the FBI investigation either, essentially gagging the companies and individuals involved.
This new bill would expand the capabilities of the National Security Letter system, making it possible to acquire emails as well as telephone records. If enacted, sending such a letter would not require a court order, nor require any oversight from external organizations whatsoever.
That’s the aspect of the bill that lone-Senate Intelligence Committee dissenter, Ron Wyden, highlighted as part of his no vote.
“This bill takes a hatchet to important protections for Americans’ liberty,” he said (via CNet). “This bill would mean more government surveillance of Americans, less due process, and less independent oversight of U.S. intelligence agencies.”
Wyden also argued that there was no real justification for such a measure to be implemented, stating that neither the FBI or any other intelligence agency has shown that being able to look at consumer emails without a warrant had any sort of effect on preventing terrorist attacks.
This push for greater surveillance powers comes at an interesting time for the FBI. It recently halted a lawsuit against Apple after the Cupertino company refused to weaken security features on one of its iPhones, even though it was the device used by the San Bernardino attacker.