Your Privacy’s at Risk

Your Privacy’s at Risk

( – COVID-19 is putting everything on hold, including Congress’ agenda as lawmakers make stimulus packages their priority. Now that additional money is entering the economy and states are beginning to open, the legislative branch is turning its focus back to other issues. Some of those items are related to the Patriot Act, which is up for renewal again, and other various security concerns.

On March 5, lawmakers introduced the EARN IT Act. The bill is a roundabout way for Attorney General WIlliam Barr to ban encryption, a fundamental part of the internet. For now, the legislation is still awaiting further hearings.

However, another piece of legislation just passed the Senate and it further expands Barr’s powers of surveillance over the American people.

Under the Guise of FISA and the PATRIOT Act

Some aspects of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) expired in March. The law establishes how the government can collect intelligence on foreign powers and their agents. During the renewal process, some senators proposed amendments to protect Americans from warrantless surveillance. Their plans didn’t work, though.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) supports another measure that would expand the FBI’s authority, under the PATRIOT Act, to help the agency protect the country. America’s more vulnerable due to the chaos caused by COVID-19 and one of the last things we need is disruptions from foreign entities.

One of the provisions in McConnell’s suggestion would allow the FBI to obtain internet search and browsing records from American citizens without a warrant. While the FBI couldn’t view the content of web pages you’ve visited, it’d have more access to your internet data than it did before. This could help it catch foreign entities from hurting the US. When word of this measure came out, a group of over 35 civil rights groups and privacy advocates wrote a letter calling for the Senate to abandon the amendment.

A Narrow Defeat

A bipartisan movement between Senators Ron Wyden (D-OR) and Steve Daines (R-MN) attempted to block this privacy-breaching amendment. It was ultimately one vote short and failed 59-37. Four Senators missed the vote:

  • Lamar Alexander (R-TN)
  • Patty Murray (D-WA)
  • Bernie Sanders (I-VT)
  • Ben Sasse (R-NE)

What Now?

Now, the bill goes to the House for approval and another vote. If agreed upon, the bill will go to President Donald Trump for his signature to sign into law. However, the House didn’t take up the measure when it reconvened on Friday, May 15. Instead, it prioritized the next stimulus bill, the Heroes Act.

Whether or not the House will pass the bill without making changes of its own remains unclear. While it was a bipartisan effort in the Senate to stop this measure, the fact remains that even some Democrats voted in its favor. The House is currently dominated by Democrats, some of whom have expressed resentment of the bill, but that doesn’t guarantee the safety of our privacy.

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