This month, a majority of the GOP-controlled Senate voted for an amendment barring the federal government from spying on Americans’ internet browsing and search histories without a warrant. It received bipartisan support and failed by just one vote.
Yet the Democratic-controlled House has decided to introduce the amendment with a key change that offers fewer protections. On Tuesday, the Democratic sponsor of the Senate amendment, Ron Wyden of Oregon, pulled his support for the House provision, and progressive privacy advocates sent a letter to members of the House calling on them to vote against the amendment and the larger bill to reauthorize lapsed provisions of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act.
Complicating matters even further, President Donald Trump signaled his opposition to the House legislation and his Justice Department recommended he veto it.
The turn of events has threatened to scuttle reauthorization of the law and left many progressive advocates frustrated that the Democratic-controlled House changed a provision that received such widespread support in the Senate.
The House version of the amendment, sponsored by Reps. Zoe Lofgren (D-Calif.) and Warren Davidson (R-Ohio), changed the Senate proposal, sponsored by Wyden and Sen. Steve Daines (R-Mont.), in one critical way: The House version would limit the restrictions around internet surveillance to U.S. persons, thereby allowing warrantless searches for non-U.S. persons’ data. Lofgren said the change was made in order to secure a vote on the amendment in the House, where Democratic leadership has been reluctant to pursue privacy measures so far — and, in earlier negotiations, explicitly rejected this proposal to require warrants for searching internet browsing history.
Privacy advocates are concerned this change undercuts the intent of the provision altogether, giving the federal government a loophole to continue spying on Americans’ internet browsing activity without explicit...