- The Washington Times
Sunday, May 17, 2020

A coalition of liberal and conservative civil liberties groups are pressuring the House to crack down on government spying on Americans’ internet browsing data, demanding lawmakers revive a failed Senate measure to keep warrantless web wiretapping in check.

More than 40 groups sent a letter Sunday to House leaders demanding they take a stand against government web-snooping.

“Search and web browsing history provide a window into some of the most sensitive aspects of our lives — revealing everything from political views to potential medical conditions,” said Neema Singh Guliani, senior legislative counsel at the American Civil Liberties Union, one of the groups that signed the letter.

“The Senate vote shows there is overwhelming support for this important reform, which House leadership should include in the Senate-passed version of this bill,” she said.

A bipartisan Senate amendment to a reauthorization of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act last week sought to curb the government’s warrantless web snooping.

The measure by Sen. Steve Daines, Montana Republican, and Sen. Ron Wyden, Oregon Democrat, failed 59-37, falling one vote short of the 60-vote threshold to pass.

Several senators who were expected to vote for the amendment, including democratic socialist Sen. Bernard Sanders of Vermont, were not present.

Now the debate over FISA reform heads back to the House, where privacy hawks are beating the drum to resurrect the Daines-Wyden amendment.

Jason Pye, vice president of legislative affairs at the conservative group FreedomWorks, said the fact that not every senator voted on the amendment is exactly why the House should give it a second look.

“It’s pretty clear that if all the senators had actually been there to vote, Wyden-Daines would have passed,” he said.

Other organizations that signed the letter include the Muslim Justice League, Demand Progress, the National Coalition against Censorship and DuckDuckGo, which operates a secure web browser.

The amendment was among reforms offered the Senate considered for FISA, a 1970s law that allows the government to surveil Americans and foreigners, both domestically and overseas, suspected of terrorism or other crimes.

Government officials, including Attorney General William Barr, argued that FISA is a critical tool for law enforcement. But President Trump and his allies allege the FBI abused it to spy on members of his campaign in the run-up to the 2016 election.

Senators also rejected a reform proposed by Sen. Rand Paul, Kentucky Republican, to prohibit the secret FISA court from issuing surveillance warrants on American citizens.

An amendment expanding the use of legal experts to scrutinize the FBI wiretap applications did pass the Senate.

The Senate overwhelmingly approved the FISA bill Thursday, which also reauthorized three lapsed surveillance provisions.

Although the Senate passed the FISA reform bill 80-16, some members griped that the bill continued to allow warrantless spying on Americans’ internet history.

Sen. Tom Udall, New Mexico Democrat, called for his colleagues to reconsider the Daines-Wyden measure.

A second vote didn’t happen.

“Our failure to protect Americans from the federal government looking over their shoulder while they are on the internet and collecting personal information is unacceptable,” Mr. Udall said.

Mr. Wyden voted against the bill, saying he couldn’t support the measure if it condoned government spying on Americans’ web history.

“The legislation hands the government power for warrantless collection of Americans’ web browsing and internet searches, as well as other private information, without having to demonstrate that those Americans have done anything wrong, or even were in contact with anyone suspected of wrongdoing,” he said.

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