What just happened? Earlier this month, the Senate passed the USA FREEDOM Reauthorization Act to reinstate the expired powers of the PATRIOT Act. Absent from the new bill is a crucial amendment that would require law enforcement to obtain a warrant before accessing private browsing data recorded by internet service providers. As it stands, the bill grants agencies like the FBI complete access to the internet history of all Americans.
The amendment was proposed by Democratic Sen. Ron Wyden of Oregon and Republican Sen. Steve Daines of Montana. Neither party opposes the amendment at all. When the Senate voted, a number of the amendment’s supporters were absent, and it failed to reach a 60-vote threshold by only one vote. Quite frankly, the failure of the Senate to codify the amendment is an embarrassment.
Subsequently, several tech companies including Mozilla, Reddit, Twitter, and Patreon have co-signed a letter asking the House of Representatives to tidy up this mess. The House still needs to pass the bill for it to become law, and they can force the inclusion of the amendment. They vote this week.
“Our users demand that we serve as responsible stewards of their private information, and our industry is predicated on that trust,” says the letter. “Americans deserve to have their online searches and browsing kept private, and only available to the government pursuant to a warrant.”
The amendment has also received support from dozens of civil rights and liberties groups, including the NAACP, the American Civil Liberties Union, and the Human Rights Watch. They co-signed a separate letter last week, which intriguingly points out that “this reform is precisely designed to stave off the kind of scandals that led to a dramatic loss of trust in United States intelligence agencies over the past two decades.” I think very few people trust the American government’s internet privacy protections these days.