Last Tuesday the Senate Intelligence Committee approved the annual Intelligence Authorization Act for 2017, which is now set to be considered by the full Senate.
The bill is used to authorize funding for the intelligence community, sets policy and authorizes resources for intelligence purposes. We bring this up because the only committee member to vote against the bill was Senator Ron Wyden (D-Ore), who later released a statement on why he did not vote for the bill – notably, that the FBI would be allowed to obtain Americans’ email using only a national security letter, meaning it will now be able to access email without a court order.
While the intrusion of civil liberties is something that everyone lets the government get away with in today’s society (as long as there are ample episodes of Keeping Up With the Kardashians on to keep people’s mind occupied), it’s nice to see that at least somebody is paying attention, let alone cares enough to warn the public about what is taking place.
Here is the full statement
Tuesday, May 24, 2016
Washington, D.C. –Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Ore., today voted against the 2017 Intelligence Authorization Act in the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence. The bill includes provisions to expand warrantless government surveillance and takes aim at a valuable independent oversight board.
“This bill takes a hatchet to important protections for Americans’ liberty,” Wyden said following the vote. “This bill would mean more government surveillance of Americans, less due process and less independent oversight of U.S. intelligence agencies. Worse, neither the intelligence agencies, nor the bill’s sponsors have shown any evidence that these changes would do anything to make Americans more secure. I plan to work with colleagues in both chambers to reverse these dangerous provisions.”
Wyden opposes multiple provisions to the bill, including;
–Allowing the FBI to obtain Americans’ email records with only a National Security Letter. Currently, the FBI can obtain email records in national security investigations with an order from the FISA Court. The bill would allow any FBI field office to demand email records without a court order, a major expansion of federal surveillance powers. The FBI can currently obtain phone records with a National Security Letter, but not email records.
-Narrowing the jurisdiction of the Privacy and Civil Liberties Oversight Board (PCLOB), for the second consecutive year. The bill would limit the PCLOB to examining only programs that impact the privacy rights of U.S. citizens. Wyden has supported the PCLOB’s focus on the rights of US persons. Wyden opposed this provision, however, since global telecommunications networks can make it difficult to determine who is an American citizen, and this provision could discourage oversight of programs when the impact on Americans’ rights is unclear. Furthermore, continually restricting a small, independent oversight board sends the message that the board shouldn’t do its job too well.
The bill does include one proposal from Wyden, which would allow the PCLOB to hire staff even when the board’s Chair is vacant. Currently the PCLOB is prohibited from hiring staff unless a Senate-confirmed Chair is in place. This proposal is also included in separate bipartisan legislation introduced by Wyden and Representative Tulsi Gabbard, D-Hawaii. PCLOB Chairman David Medine is scheduled to step down on July 1.