June 23, 2016

THE MARGIN, HOWEVER, WAS SADLY NARROW: Senate rejects bill to let FBI search email records without warrant.

The Senate rejected legislation Wednesday that would allow the FBI to search Americans’ Internet browsing histories and email records without a warrant.

Supporters invoked the Orlando massacre to push for the measure, saying it would help federal agents identify terrorist suspects and thwart future attacks. But privacy rights advocates said the bill’s sponsors were using the mass shooting as a way to expand government surveillance and get around constitutional protections against unreasonable searches and seizures.

Senators voted 58-38 to advance the legislation, falling two votes short of the 60 votes needed. The amendment by Sens. John McCain, R-Ariz., and Richard Burr, R-N.C., would have been added to a federal spending bill that included funding for the FBI. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., switched his vote from “yes” to “no” — a procedural move that will allow him to bring the legislation up again later.

It was the second time in two weeks that security hawks and privacy rights advocates have clashed in the wake of the Orlando shootings, in which a lone gunman killed 49 people and wounded 53 others at a gay nightclub. The House last week defeated a measure to ban warrantless surveillance of Americans’ electronic communications.

On the one hand, our Attorney General says we can never know why Mateen killed all those people. On the other hand, the killing means we have an urgent need for anti-terror measures. On the gripping hand, the FBI already knew this guy was a risk from multiple warnings and still did nothing — and then lost his wife, after the shootings.

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