Digital Insurgency

Where Surveillance, Encryption & Privacy Collide

A bill that would expand personal privacy as it relates to your email, and one that looked likely to pass given its unanimous passage in the House, has hit a major snag due to a Republican Senator’s poison pill amendment. In a bill intended to make it harder for government to spy on you, Texas Senator John Cornyn introduced an amendment that would make it easier for the FBI to access your data without a warrant. The senator’s amendment would have greatly expanded the use of what are known as National Security Letters.¬†Sponsors of the email privacy legislation have pulled it from consideration.

National Security Letters are issued without a warrant and would allow the Bureau to snarf up your browser history. Proponents of the Amendment¬†portray it as fixing a typo in current law, but privacy advocates note that it would represent a dramatic increase in warrantless surveillance and gathering of personal data. The Senate has moved similar provisions in other bills hoping to expand the FBI’s surveillance capability, but the amendment was a step too far for supporters of the bill.

Senator Mike Lee suggested that the inclusion of the National Security Letter language would essentially negate many of the protections the bill sought to expand.

Many of the amendments offered to the bill the House passed include¬†exceptions in the case of national security or “emergencies”, but opponents fear those vague exceptions could be abused.

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