Just days after voting down several gun related bills in defense of the Second Amendment, Senators John Thune and Mike Rounds voted to undermine the Fourth Amendment and grant the FBI the power to gather transaction email, chat, and web browsing data without a warrant or judicial oversight via National Security Letters (NSL). Senator Rounds even co-sponsored the measure.
Republicans are taking advantage of the shooting tragedy in Orlando to push the measure, but as noted in the Christian Science Monitor:
“The FBI had the shooter under investigation twice, and according to FBI Director Comey himself, they obtained his transactional records during the course of their investigation,” says Ms. Greene. “Expanding the NSL authority doesn’t mean the FBI will get access to new records; it means the FBI will access those records without any judicial approval or oversight.”
So had this measure already been in place, it would have left the FBI with no more information than they already had, and it would not have changed the outcome. In a statement Sen. Wyden had this to say,
“If this proposal passes, FBI agents will be able to demand the records of what websites you look at online, who you email and chat with, and your text message logs, with no judicial oversight whatsoever. The reality is the FBI already has the power to demand these electronic records with a court order under the Patriot Act. In emergencies the FBI can even obtain the records right away and go to a judge after the fact. This isn’t about giving law-enforcement new tools, it’s about the FBI not wanting to do paperwork.”
And why is judicial oversight (a warrant) so important? Inspector General reports on the FBI’s NSL program have found wide spread abuse and miss-use. NSL’s have also been used to target whistle-blowers and members of the press. Our country’s founders foresaw this type of abuse, which is precisely why the Fourth Amendment requires judicial oversight in the form of a warrant.
Though the measure was defeated by one vote, it will surely be brought up again. The Senate Republican modus operandi has been to tack controversial measures such as this onto must pass bills the day before a recess. That’s my bet anyway.
At the end of the day, restricting gun ownership isn’t going to stop terrorist attacks, and neither is removing judicial oversight from domestic surveillance. Apparently Congress feels the need to do something. If only they could think of something to do that doesn’t strip us of our freedoms. When that happens, the terrorists really do win.