This morning the Senate fell one vote short of attaching a rider to a spending bill that would give the FBI sweeping new surveillance authority, including warrantless access to browsing history. Now, Senate leaders are trying to turn just one more senator in favor of the rider before doing a re-vote. This process is being spearheaded by Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, who introduced the rider (McCain Amendment 4787) late on Monday and is trying to sneak it through using a cloture process that limits any debate.
The senators who supported this amendment appear to be largely motivated by fear of seeming soft on terror after the recent mass shooting at the Pulse Nightclub in Orlando was widely and solely characterized as an act of Islamic terrorism, as opposed to an egregious hate crime against the LGBT community. Unfortunately, as is all too typical, the Senate’s knee-jerk solution is more misguided surveillance legislation.
You don’t have to be a legal scholar to see for yourself. The text of McCain Amendment 4787 is available on the congress.gov website (scroll to the bottom) and in plain language, it would give the FBI warrantless access to all sorts of private and personally-identifying information:
- Real names, physical addresses, email addresses and telephone numbers
- Credit card and bank account numbers and purchase history
- Web browsing history
- Local and long distance phone call history
The fact that this amendment failed by a narrow margin is no cause for celebration, as McConnell filed a motion to recommit. This will allow him to have a do-over vote as soon as he finds one more senator to support it. McConnell’s mix of strong-arm and stealth tactics in pushing a surveillance amendment is nothing new; he was able to pass the much-maligned Cybersecurity Information Sharing Act (CISA) similarly, by attaching it to a must-pass defense spending bill. But in the case of McCain Amendment 4787, his speed and precision is unprecedented.
How we fight back
The good news is that it looks like we have a real shot at halting this legislation. Since yesterday, Fight for the Future has helped drive over 2,000 phone calls to senators using the dial-in tool set up at 1-919-FREEDOM and www.decidethefuture.org. Thanks to everyone who has taken action, we’ve been ringing the Senate’s phones off the hook, and we made a crucial difference in winning this morning’s vote. Now we need to turn up the volume. The one thing senators hate worse than maybe seeming soft on terror is having their constituents actually pissed off at them.