In a move which is more suited to an authoritarian state, the US Senate has voted to extend the powers of intelligence authorities to search browser history without a court warrant.
Although the amended text still has to be agreed by the House of Representatives before heading to the Oval Office to be approved by President Donald Trump, this is a blow for US citizens who should correctly crave the right to privacy.
With only 59 votes being cast in support of a clause which would remove the ability of intelligence and enforcement agencies to snoop and spy without petitioning court judges for a warrant. Such abilities were introduced during the Patriot Act, following the 9/11 attacks in the US, to fight terrorism but it seems these politicians have forgotten the very principles which they are supposed to be protecting.
Ironically, at the same time it is supposedly fighting dictatorships around the world, the US’ attitude towards remarkably similar to the Chinese Governments.
My amendment to secure browser history from warrantless spying would have passed with a full Senate present. The House should listen to @RepZoeLofgren and @WarrenDavidson. Any renewal of government surveillance powers must have equally strong protections for Americans’ privacy.
— Ron Wyden (@RonWyden) May 14, 2020
The snooping powers were granted as part of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) which expired in March. Certain aspects from this Act and Section 215 of the US Patriot Act had been slated to be included in the USA Freedom Reauthorization Act. The USA Freedom Reauthorization Act was an effort to renew numerous elements, including the ability for intelligence agencies to spy with judicial authorisation.
Despite the PR campaign in play to validate the legislation (such as ludicrous Bill names and acronyms), and efforts to increase national security, privacy rights should still be respected. Fear should not be used as a weapon to erode democratic rights.
In most democratic nations, authorities have to seek permission from the courts to workaround privacy rules, but this is not the case here. Such rules contradict the claim that Governments are working for the people and can be held accountable by the people; the process of checks and balances has been compromised.
Senator Ron Wyden of Oregon has been championing the fight against government overreach, but it seems he fell one vote short. Had 60 votes been cast in favour of the clause, privacy of the US citizens would be protected, however, his cause fell one vote short. It is not fair to blame the failure of this pro-democracy movement on a single person, but it is interesting to see who didn’t turn up to cast a vote.
There were four individuals not to show up:
|Absentee votes for Amendment Number: 1583|
The Republican Senators were expected to vote against the Amendment (though many defied party orders) therefore the absence of Alexander and Sasse is not a material loss. Murray, the Democratic representative of Washington was not in the capital during the vote, and neither was the anti-establishment figure of Bernie Sanders.
It does appear both Murray and Sanders have been distracted in recent weeks, enough so that inaction has sent US legislation down a worrying path.