This Draconian FBI Spying Bill Came Within a Hair’s Breadth of Passing Senate

A sweeping bill aimed at expanding FBI powers to conduct warrantless surveillance of individuals’ metadata, browser histories and IP addresses narrowly stalled in the Senate Wednesday, falling just one vote short of the 60-tally threshold needed to advance the legislation.


Though the bill was temporarily defeated, the measure is not necessarily dead. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell changed his vote to "no" at the last minute, bringing the total yes vote to 58, in a procedure that will allow him to reconsider the provision in the future.

With support on both sides of the aisle, U.S. Senator John McCain (R-Ariz.) led the push to dramatically expand key provisions of the U.S. Patriot Act in order to widen the FBI’s powers to dodge judicial review when requesting seizing internet records. His amendment was included in the Commerce, Justice, Science Appropriations Act.

Neema Singh Guliani, legislative counsel with the ACLU’s Washington Legislative Office, told AlterNet that this bill would have dramatically widened “the ability of the FBI to gather information including browsing history, information from subject lines in your email, and your IP address, which is a proxy for your location and how long you were signed into Facebook. They would be able to get all that information without going to a judge, instead using something called a ‘national security letter,’ which is usually accompanied by a gag order.”

The bill also aimed to make permanent a “lone wolf” counter-terror provision that, according to the ACLU, “improperly allows the government to obtain secret Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) orders for individuals who are not connected to an international terrorist group or foreign nation.”

In a statement released June 20, McCain said, “In the wake of the tragic massacre in Orlando, it is important our law enforcement have the tools they need to conduct counterterrorism investigations and track ‘lone wolves,’ or ISIL-inspired terrorists who do not have direct connections to foreign terrorist organizations but who seek to harm Americans.”

But Guliani emphasized, “We shouldn’t have a kneejerk reaction to say that there needs to be more surveillance and less oversight. Gutting civil liberties is not an appropriate response. This amendment runs counter to the conversation over the last several years where we talked about how do we reign in surveillance abuses. This says, ‘let's expand the types of information the FBI can get without ever seeing a judge.’”

Notably, McCain invoked the mass killing of LGBTQ people to advance his proposed amendment, even though he has a dismal voting record on LGBTQ issues, advocating against federal laws protecting gay adoption and same-sex marriage. He is one of numerous lawmakers on both sides of the aisle exploiting public fear in the aftermath of the Orlando massacre in order to push for the dramatic expansion of police and intelligence powers.

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