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Senate Votes to Allow Law Enforcement Agencies to Access Browser History Without Warrant

CC BY 2.0 / Phil Roeder / United States Capitol
United States Capitol - Sputnik International
The United States Patriot Act expands the powers of US authorities to surveil online activity and electronic devices. The renewal of the act before March 2020 was included in the November stop-gap legislation the following year.

The US Senate passed a bill by a single vote on Thursday that gives government agencies such as the FBI and CIA the right to access citizens browsing history without a warrant.

This means that authorities are not required to have probable cause to believe someone may have committed a crime before requiring their ISP to hand over web browsing and search history records.

The Senate is seeking to vote on renewing the Patriot Act, a bill that gives government agencies expansive powers to conduct mass electronic surveillance of citizens. The House of Representatives had already approved the move.

The first of three amendments put forward by the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) would have blocked authorities from warrantless searching of web browsing history.

A second amendment that did pass, however, by a margin of 77-19, was put forward by Vermont's Patrick Leahy and Mike Lee from Utah. The amendment “strengthens the role of independent 'friends of the court' to the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court, ensuring that the court has additional opportunities to hear the views of outside experts”, according to the ACLU.

ACLU Senior Legislative Counsel Neema Singh responded to the statement, saying that Congress has "overwhelmingly passed changes that will help ensure that government claims before a secret intelligence court do not go unchecked", and that the House should not consider any legislation that does not include the additions.

"But this won't address all of the surveillance abuses that have come to light in recent years and Congress has more work to do to protect Americans' privacy online. The vote today shows that a majority of senators agree that what we do online should not be subject to warrantless surveillance — and it’s past time for Congress to make this clear in our laws", he said.

The Senate will vote later on Thursday on the third proposed amendment, from Rand Paul, requiring a warrant for Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) searches on US citizens.

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