Mitch McConnell is pushing the Senate to pass a law that would let the FBI collect Americans' web browsing history without a warrant

Reuters
  • The Senate is expected to vote Wednesday to renew the 2001 PATRIOT Act, and Mitch McConnell is pushing an amendment to the law that would expand the FBI's surveillance powers.
  • An amendment proposed by McConnell would, for the first time ever, let the FBI collect records on Americans' web browsing and search histories without a warrant.
  • Another amendment drafted by McConnell would give the attorney general more oversight of FBI investigations into political operatives, like the recent FBI investigation into the Trump campaign's alleged ties to foreign countries.
  • A bipartisan group of senators including Ron Wyden, Democrat of Oregon, and Rand Paul, Republican of Kentucky, proposed a measure to block the FBI from accessing people's web browsing history without a warrant, but it failed by one vote on Wednesday.
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Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell is pushing forward with an amendment that would let the FBI collect records on Americans' web browsing and search histories without a warrant this week.

McConnell proposed the amendment as part of the renewal of the 2001 PATRIOT Act, The Daily Beast first reported. The Senate is expected to vote on the measure as soon as Wednesday.

The McConnell amendment would let Department of Justice officials — overseen by Attorney General Bill Barr — look through anyone's browsing history without the pre-approval of a judge if they deem the browsing history is relevant to an investigation. It blocks the FBI from accessing the "content" of people's web browsing history, but would let the FBI access records detailing which sites and which search terms people entered.Advertisement

The proposal has drawn backlash from a bipartisan group of senators, as well as from both liberal and conservative civil liberties groups including the ACLU and Americans for Prosperity.

Democratic Sen. Ron Wyden and Republican Sen. Steve Daines jointly proposed an amendment that would require the FBI to obtain a warrant before accessing people's web browsing history — but their amendment failed by just one vote Wednesday, bringing McConnell's proposal one step closer to becoming law.

"When you talk about web browsing and searches, you're talking about some of the most sensitive, most personal, and most private details of Americans' lives. Every thought that can come into people's heads can be revealed in an internet search or a visit to a website," Wyden said in a statement to Business Insider.
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McConnell's press office did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

In a joint op-ed, ACLU counsel Neema Singh Guliani and Americans for Prosperity decried McConnell's proposal as "warrantless secret spying" and "unjust." As it weighs the reauthorization of the PATRIOT Act, the Senate is also considering amendments that would give the attorney general more oversight of the secret Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) Court, which handles investigations into political candidates.Advertisement

The Senate is expected to vote on the amendments Wednesday or Thursday.

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