First we found, thanks to Edward Snowden, that the NSA was collecting mass amounts of metadata on email. Some discounted this, downplaying the significance of metadata. Hillary Clinton has called for more government surveillance to fight terror. It looks like her wish will come true. The Senate Intelligence Committee approved a bill which would allow the FBI to obtain email without a warrant. CNET reports:
The 2017 Intelligence Authorization Act, if enacted into law, would let the FBI obtain email records without a court order. All the agency would need is a National Security Letter, which lets the FBI get information from companies about their customers without alerting the person being investigated. Currently, the FBI can access phone records that way, but not emails…
Senate Intelligence Committee Chairman Richard Burr (R-NC) and Vice Chairman Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) said Tuesday in a joint statement that the 2017 Intelligence Authorization Act makes it easier for the government to keep Americans safe.
It is not surprising that conservative Democrat Dianne Feinstein would approve of this, but certainly there must be other Democrats who would protest this if there really is still a difference between the parties. One, and only one, Democrat objected. Ron Wyden released this statement:
Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Ore., today voted against the 2017 Intelligence Authorization Act in the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence. The bill includes provisions to expand warrantless government surveillance and takes aim at a valuable independent oversight board.
“This bill takes a hatchet to important protections for Americans’ liberty,” Wyden said following the vote. “This bill would mean more government surveillance of Americans, less due process and less independent oversight of U.S. intelligence agencies. Worse, neither the intelligence agencies, nor the bill’s sponsors have shown any evidence that these changes would do anything to make Americans more secure. I plan to work with colleagues in both chambers to reverse these dangerous provisions.”
Wyden opposes multiple provisions to the bill, including;
-Allowing the FBI to obtain Americans’ email records with only a National Security Letter. Currently, the FBI can obtain email records in national security investigations with an order from the FISA Court. The bill would allow any FBI field office to demand email records without a court order, a major expansion of federal surveillance powers. The FBI can currently obtain phone records with a National Security Letter, but not email records.
-Narrowing the jurisdiction of the Privacy and Civil Liberties Oversight Board (PCLOB), for the second consecutive year. The bill would limit the PCLOB to examining only programs that impact the privacy rights of U.S. citizens. Wyden has supported the PCLOB’s focus on the rights of US persons. Wyden opposed this provision, however, since global telecommunications networks can make it difficult to determine who is an American citizen, and this provision could discourage oversight of programs when the impact on Americans’ rights is unclear. Furthermore, continually restricting a small, independent oversight board sends the message that the board shouldn’t do its job too well.
The bill does include one proposal from Wyden, which would allow the PCLOB to hire staff even when the board’s Chair is vacant. Currently the PCLOB is prohibited from hiring staff unless a Senate-confirmed Chair is in place. This proposal is also included in separate bipartisan legislation introduced by Wyden and Representative Tulsi Gabbard, D-Hawaii. PCLOB Chairman David Medine is scheduled to step down on July 1.
The Intercept has further background information on the bill.
Of the current presidential candidates, only Bernie Sanders has stood up for civil liberties. Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump have similar views supporting restrictions on civil liberties to fight terrorism. I am not aware of any statements from the candidates specifically on this bill, but actions such as this from Congress demonstrate the need for Sanders, as opposed to Clinton or Trump, to have the veto pen in the White House.