FILE PHOTO: An American flag flies outside of the U.S. Capitol dome ahead of the House of Representatives resolution appointing managers for the Senate impeachment trial against U.S. President Donald Trump in Washington, U.S., January 15, 2020. REUTERS/Tom Brenner/File Photo

THE NEUTRAL ZONE

The U.S. Senate on Thursday approved a bill that would restore some aspects of government authority to investigate American records but would restrict other elements, including access to phone records.

The measure still needs the House of Representatives’ approval before it can be sent to the White House. If signed into law, the provisions will be up for renewal in December 2023

The bill will restore authorities’ ability to use “elements including the so-called ‘business records,’ ‘lone wolf,’ and ‘roving wiretap’ provisions in counterterrorism or espionage investigations.” In addition, legal protections will be expanded for “certain groups of individuals targeted by federal surveillance.” Lastly, the bill would permanently end a deactivated NSA program that “allowed the agency to obtain, with judicial approval, Americans’ phone records in terrorism probes.”

However, privacy advocates argue that the lack of approval for a provision from Sen. Ron Wyden (D-OR) and Sen. Steve Daines (R-MT) puts consumer privacy at risk. The provision would have targeted Section 215 of the Patriot Act and would have established an “expressed ban on the FBI being able to look at Americans’ web browsing history without a warrant.” The amendment was narrowly rejected by a margin of one vote.

MEDIA PERSPECTIVE

Senate Votes Down Protections Against Warrantless Government Collection of Americans’ Browser and Search History – Reason – 5/13/2020
The proposed amendment by Wyden and Daines simply prohibited using the section of the law allowing for third-party data collection to include web browser and search history information. […] Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R–Ky.) opposed the amendment and even circulated a rival amendment that would specifically amend the law in the opposite direction and make it clear that these records were permitted for search targets.

Senate Votes To Maintain Status Quo Of FISA Courts Authorizing Spying On Americans – Daily Caller – 5/15/2020
The Senate did approve a bill Thursday that would place some constraints upon the federal government’s surveillance authority. The legislation, passed 80-16, prevents federal agencies from doing mass seizures of Americans’ online and cell phone data. The legislation’s renewal came with another sunset clause, with future examination of the bill slated for December 2023, Reason noted.

Senate Approves Surveillance Bill With Sharper Privacy Safeguards – The New York Times – 5/14/2020
The Senate voted on Thursday to reinstate a set of expired F.B.I. tools used to investigate terrorism and espionage that lapsed this spring, adopting modest new privacy protections for Americans swept up in national security cases. […] Despite reservations, President Trump is expected to sign the bill when it reaches his desk.

FISA overhaul could be an early test of House voting by proxy – Roll Call – 5/15/2020
The amended bill ultimately sailed through the Senate 80-16 on Thursday, after 77 senators voted Wednesday to add the amendment from Leahy and Lee. Republicans have been increasingly critical of the FISA court process given the now-public surveillance efforts against former Trump campaign foreign policy adviser Carter Page, as well as the issue of the unmasking of the identity of Michael Flynn, who was Trump’s national security adviser.

INFLUENCER PERSPECTIVE

James Woods on Twitter, 5/15/2020: I’m a patriot, but I believe the ABUSES of the Patriot Act by the Obama cartel have been singularly unpatriotic and unAmerican. If the American press were not enslaved to its DNC masters, #ObamaGate would be (and in actual fact is) bigger than the abuses of Watergate.… https://t.co/H4qjmgpfAw

Fight for the Future on Twitter, 5/15/2020: If you’re out on the street protesting because you think wearing a mask to prevent the spread of a deadly disease is an unnecessary infringement on your civil liberties, may we direct your attention to the fact that the USA PATRIOT ACT is being reauthorized by Congress right now?

Evan Greer on Twitter, 5/15/2020:
Democrats: Trump is a fascist Russian puppet who can’t be trusted with authoritarian power
Also democrats: vote to reauthorize the patriot act
Republicans: FBI spying is a deep state conspiracy to take down POTUS
Also Republicans: vote to reauthorize the PATRIOT act

The American Conservative on Twitter, 5/15/2020: However cynical the rationale, the appetite on Capitol Hill for beefing up privacy protections does seem to be real. They should keep it up, and the American people should keep up the pressure.

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