An amendment in the United States Senate that would have blocked the government from surveilling Americans’ browser history without a warrant failed on Wednesday — by a single vote.
Sen. Ron Wyden (D-OR) introduced the amendment to the 2001 Patriot Act, which was meant to explicitly restrict authorities’ ability to search both browser and search histories under Section 215 of the act.
Wyden’s measure was essentially meant to block what another amendment was trying to accomplish: Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell had introduced a measure that would, in effect, greatly expand the surveillance powers of the Department of Justice.
“McConnell is that much closer to give [Attorney General] Bill Barr the green light to spy on Americans’ private information,” Wyden wrote on Twitter.
Fifty-nine members of the Senate just voted in favor of my amendment to block warrantless government surveillance of Americans' browser history. It failed by just one vote. McConnell is that much closer to giving Bill Barr the green light to spy on Americans' private information. https://t.co/IV5ERbte48
— Ron Wyden (@RonWyden) May 13, 2020
“Now that Americans have been asked to stay home and not move around, they are more vulnerable than ever to abusive surveillance,” Wyden said in his statement. “Now more than ever, during this pandemic, Americans deserve assurances that the government isn’t spying on them as they move around the internet.”
In his own statement, McConnell called the bill “strong” and said that it “strikes a correct and delicate balance” between “the need for accountability with our solemn obligation to protect our citizens, and defend our homeland.”
“Common sense tells us this crisis demands more vigilance on other fronts of national security not less,” McConnell said.
A total of 59 senators voted in favor of that amendment, one short of the 60 needed to approve the measure.
According to the Daily Beast, the amendment McConnell introduced would block the FBI from seeing the “content” of searches and browser activity, but it “explicitly permits the FBI to warrantlessly collect records on Americans’ web browsing and search histories. In a different amendment, McConnell also proposed giving the attorney general visibility into the ‘accuracy and completeness’ of FBI surveillance submissions to the secret Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) Court.”
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