Senator warns against push to expand feds' access to email records

Senator warns against push to expand feds' access to email records
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Sen. Ron WydenRonald (Ron) Lee WydenDemocratic senators introduce bill to block funding for border wall live stream Booker, Sanders propose new federal agency to control drug prices Hillicon Valley: Amazon to challenge Pentagon cloud contract in court | State antitrust investigation into Google expands | Intel agencies no longer collecting location data without warrant MORE (D-Ore.) on Thursday evening warned against pushing a proposal on the Senate floor to give the FBI more power to obtain email records and browsing histories without a warrant.

The provision to expand the scope of government orders, formally called national security letters, will likely be debated next week during the Senate’s work on the fiscal 2017 Commerce appropriations bill, Wyden said.

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“This will, I’m sure, be a topic of extensive discussion on the Senate floor next week, Mr. President. I just wanted to take this opportunity to outline my views,” Wyden said. 

Lawmakers have attached the national security letters amendment to several pieces of legislation recently. 

The Senate Intelligence Committee approved the Intelligence Authorization Act in May with the provision included. And a similar amendment filed to a popular email privacy bill in the Judiciary Committee helped stall that legislation for the foreseeable future. 

“In my judgment, it would be reckless to expand this particular surveillance authority when the government has so frequently failed to use its existing authority responsibly,” Wyden said. 

GOP Majority Whip John CornynJohn CornynGOP divided over impeachment trial strategy GOP senators balk at lengthy impeachment trial Overnight Health Care: Trump officials making changes to drug pricing proposal | House panel advances flavored e-cig ban | Senators press FDA tobacco chief on vaping ban MORE (R-Texas), one of the lead backers of the provision, has not tried to attach the amendment to the Commerce appropriations bill, according to his office. It is unclear if that was his plan.  

Cornyn did advocate for the provision during debate earlier in the day, noting the FBI Director James Comey asked for the expanded authority this week. 

“We also learned from Director Comey yesterday, there are additional tools that the FBI does not currently have that we ought to make sure it has,” he said, referring to the expansion of national security letters.

National security letters are government orders, similar to administrative subpoenas, that do not require prior court approval. The orders can compel businesses to turn over certain kinds of customer records. 

The letters do not apply to electronic communications records, but the FBI wants them to. Those records include data about when and to whom emails were sent. They also reveal IP information and browser history, but not the content of communication. 

“It’s important for colleagues in my view to see that this proposal would dramatically and unnecessary expand the government’s ability to conduct surveillance of Americans without court oversight,” Wyden said. “In my judgment, it would not make our country safer.”