This would make it easier for the FBI to obtain “electronic communication transactional records” without a warrant.
In the wake of the Orlando attack, several Republican senators have proposed enhancing the FBI’s surveillance capabilities.
Sens. John McCain of Arizona and Richard Burr of North Carolina, among others, proposed an amendment to the Commerce, Justice, and Science appropriations bill that would make it easier for the FBI to obtain “electronic communication transactional records” without a warrant when conducting investigations.
As Reuters notes, the proposal expands the FBI’s ability to use secretive National Security Letters (NSLs) to get information on suspects. NSLs allow the FBI to demand data about a company’s users without judicial review, and the companies that receive them have to remain silent, though the passage of the USA Freedom Act last year allowed for more transparency.
According to the bill text, the feds would be able to access a person’s name, physical address, email address, telephone number, instrument number, account number, login history, length of service (including start date), types of service, and means and sources of payment for service (including any card or bank account information).
They could also get IP addresses, session times and durations for an electronic communication, but cell tower data is excluded.
“To be clear, this amendment would not allow the FBI access to the content of private messages, but will only allow law enforcement to look at non-content electronic communication transactional records in the course of a national security investigation, such as how much time a suspicious individual spends on a website,” Sen. McCain said in a statement. “I look forward to working with my Republican and Democratic colleagues to pass this amendment.”
The amendment would also make permanent an amendment to the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) that allows federal investigators to keep an eye on non-US “citizen lone wolf attackers” who might not have direct connections to any known terrorist organization.
It’s a part of the USA Patriot Act that’s set to expire in 2019, Reuters says.
The amendments come just days after a 29-year-old American-born citizen opened fire in a nightclub in Orlando, killing 49 people before he was killed by police. While carrying out the attack, the shooter called 911 and pledged his allegiance to ISIS.
It was later revealed that the shooter was investigated by the FBI twice, but that inquiry was dropped after he was found to have no link to terrorist organizations.
“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,” Sen. McCain said.
“This commonsense amendment includes a proposal that the Administration asked for to enhance law enforcement’s abilities to catch terrorists, and Congress should give them that tool,” Sen.
According to Reuters, the Obama administration has long wanted NSLs to apply to more than just phone billing records.
The amendment, which could face a vote on Wednesday, is likely to prompt concern from privacy advocates.