Just as the Democrats seized on the Orlando tragedy to push their gun control agenda, the Republicans are moving forward with a plan to expand the surveillance powers of the FBI.
The legislation would broaden the type of telephone and internet records the FBI could request from companies like Alphabet Inc and Verizon without a warrant. The proposal met opposition from critics who said it threatened civil liberties and did little to improve national security.
The proposal “will allow the FBI to collect the dots so they can connect the dots, and that’s been the biggest problem that they’ve had in identifying these homegrown, radicalized terrorists,’” Senator John Cornyn said on Tuesday.
Reuters describes the proposed expansion as “the most substantial reforms to the U.S. intelligence community since the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, and a refusal to heed the FBI’s call for laws that would undermine encryption.”
The legislation before the Senate Wednesday, filed as an amendment to a criminal justice funding bill, would widen the FBI’s authority to use so-called National Security Letters, which do not require a warrant and whose very existence is usually a secret.
Such letters can currently compel a company to hand over a user’s phone billing records. Under the Senate’s change they could demand electronic communications transaction records such as time stamps of emails and the emails’ senders and recipients, in addition to some information about websites a person visits.
The legislation would also make permanent a provision of the USA Patriot Act that allows the intelligence community to conduct surveillance on “lone wolf” suspects who do not have confirmed ties to a foreign terrorist group. That provision, which the Justice Department said last year had never been used, is currently set to expire in December 2019.
Would these expanded powers have prevented the Orlando shooter from murdering a club full of innocent people? No. The FBI already had jihadi and ISIS-loyalist Omar Mateen on their radar numerous times, and received a warning by a fellow mosque member. Perhaps the Senate Republicans ought to look into why this terrorist managed to evade serious consideration with all the red flags in the world flying around him, instead of expanding the power of the same government that ignored him.
Ironically, “Senator Ron Wyden, an Oregon Democrat, criticized Senate Republicans for ‘pushing fake, knee-jerk solutions that will do nothing to prevent mass shootings or terrorist attacks.'” He’s half right; the Democrats did the same with gun control.
Every tragedy brings a threat for rash “action” to curtail our liberties — and Orlando, it appears, will be no exception.