If two Republican Senators get their way, the mass shooting that took place in Orlando last month will have far-reaching consequences for Internet privacy. According to an article in the Washington Post, Senators John McCain (R-AZ) and Richard Burr (R – NC) proposed a new amendment that would provide the FBI — without any type of court order — the power to capture or intercept email logs, IP addresses and Internet browsing histories of anyone suspected of being a terrorist threat or even connected to such a person.
For agents to obtain such information, investigators would need only to have an FBI field supervisor issue an administrative subpoena, or what is more commonly known as a National Security Letter (NSL.)
While the proposal failed to pass, there is still cause for concern among privacy advocates because the amendment fell just two votes short in the Senate. This means that the Senate is very likely to try again to pass what has been dubbed the McCain-Burr amendment.
The Washington Post is also reporting that Senate Majority Leader, Mitch McConnell (R- KY), is reserving the option to reintroduce the amendment again at a later date. It’s probably also important to note that two other Senate bills currently being considered right now contain language nearly identical to the McCain-Burr amendment.
The proposed McCain-Burr amendment is just the latest attempt by Senate Republicans to make it easier for the FBI to capture sensitive personal data without a warrant. Just days after the Orlando massacre, Sen. John Cornyn (R-TX), the number two republican in the Senate, announced that he would push for legislation that would expand FBI surveillance powers with regard to electronic records, such as Internet browsing history and email logs.
National Security Letters have been the subject of much controversy and scrutiny in the last few years, with many claiming they are unconstitutional. In fact, several lower Federal Court judges have ruled that some aspects of NSLs are unconstitutional. Nevertheless, multiple appeals by the government are sure to delay any final ruling on NSLs for quite some time.