Heinrich Blocks Intelligence Authorization Act Over Provision To Expand Warrantless Government Surveillance

WASHINGTON, D.C. - U.S. Senator Martin Heinrich (D-N.M.), a member of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, placed a hold on the 2017 Intelligence Authorization Act over a provision in the bill that seeks a massive expansion of government surveillance into Americans' email, web browser history, and communication through social media platforms without judicial approval.

"This represents a massive expansion of government surveillance and gives the FBI access to law-abiding Americans' email and browser histories without judicial approval or independent oversight," said Senator Heinrich. "There is no question that our Intelligence Community needs the ability to collect critical information to guard against terrorist threats. However, the government shouldn't have access to every Google search you've ever made and emails you've ever sent or received without a court order. Obtaining this warrant is straightforward and the FBI simply needs to establish a reasonable connection to terrorism or national security."

"We need to pass an Intelligence Authorization Act that bolsters programs that actually target and prevent terrorism, not unnecessarily threaten Americans' constitutional rights," Senator Heinrich continued.

Currently, the FBI can use a National Security Letter only to obtain basic subscriber information about telecommunications, which includes name, address, length of service, and local and long distance toll billing records. This provision in the Intelligence Authorization Act would broaden that list to include electronic communication transactional records, which the FBI could then obtain from service providers by merely certifying relevance to an investigation with no court order required.

Current law already provides the FBI with a legal mechanism to obtain this same information: a court order under Section 215 of the USA PATRIOT Act. In an emergency, the USA FREEDOM Act of 2015 permits the FBI to obtain these records prior to obtaining judicial approval.

The provision is opposed by a number of major technology companies and by privacy and civil liberties groups across the political spectrum.