GOP senators want new vote on FBI surveillance powers

GOP senators want new vote on FBI surveillance powers
© Getty Images

Republican senators are calling for a revote on a controversial plan that would make it easier for the FBI to get a person's electronic records without a warrant. 

Sen. Kelly AyotteKelly Ann AyotteGOP mulls having outside counsel question Kavanaugh, Ford Pallbearers, speakers announced for McCain's DC memorial service and Capitol ceremony Tributes pour in for John McCain MORE (R-N.H.) on Wednesday said she hopes the Senate reevaluates the proposal to expand the reach of National Security Letters after it was narrowly voted down on the Senate floor last month. 


"It's kind of hard to believe given the context we live in that the Senate didn't pass this. So I hope we do this again and take it back up and pass it in light of what we're hearing today," Ayotte said during a hearing.  

She noted that it is FBI Director James Comey's "No. 1 priority." 

The proposal would give the FBI power to force technology companies to hand over a customer's electronic communications records using National Security Letters, which are government orders similar to subpoenas that are used during terror and national security investigations. 

Those records include things like email logs from a customer that show when messages were sent and to whom. They also include IP addresses and browser history but not the content of electronic messages.  

The FBI can currently use National Security Letters to get telephone and financial transaction records, but not similar electronic records. The FBI has blamed it on a drafting error in the law. 

Late last month, the Senate narrowly failed to attach the proposal to the upper chamber's Commerce, Justice and Science Appropriations bill. The amendment offered by Sen. John McCainJohn Sidney McCainCongress must use bipartisan oversight as the gold standard The Hill's Morning Report — Ford, Kavanaugh to testify Thursday as another accuser comes forward Trump hits McCain on ObamaCare vote MORE (R-Ariz.) fell one vote short of the 60 needed to advance. 

One Republican and three Democrats missed the vote, and supporters have said the amendment could pass with all senators voting. 

Sen. John CornynJohn CornynFord's lawyer: Hearing doesn't appear to be designed for 'fair', 'respectful' treatment GOP opens door to holding Kavanaugh committee vote this week GOP senator accuses Dems of ‘character assassination’ on Kavanaugh MORE (R-Texas), another large backer of the amendment, is also renewing the fight. He penned an op-ed in The Dallas Morning News this week calling the proposal a "bipartisan priority that has united a lot of people."

Privacy minded senators and civil liberties groups have lobbied strongly against the change, saying it would be reckless to expand the authority since the government has previously found problems with the way law enforcement used National Security Letters in the past. 

Republican senators have pushed the provision in a number of different places. The amendment helped stall a popular email privacy bill in the Senate Judiciary Committee and two Democratic senators are currently holding up the Intelligence reauthorization bill because a similar provision was added to it.