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A Painful Reminder. A Moment for Change

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WASHINGTON — On Friday, Politico reported that the House of Representatives would vote on a key amendment to the USA Freedom Reauthorization Act. The amendment was offered in the Senate by Sens. Ron Wyden (D–Oregon) and Steve Daines (R–Montana) but fell just one vote short of being included in the legislation when the Reauthorization Act passed that chamber on May 14.

The Senate did include a separate amendment offered by Sens. Patrick Leahy (D–Vermont) and Mike Lee (R–Utah) that expands the role of amici curiae to protect against wrongful FISA targeting of religious groups, political organizations and the press.

But the Wyden–Daines amendment narrowly failed to get the 60 votes needed for passage, in the absence of at least two Senators who would have voted in favor of it. A version of that additional amendment, now sponsored in the House by Reps. Zoe Lofgren (D–California) and Warren Davidson (R–Ohio), would prohibit the use of Section 215 of the Patriot Act for the warrantless surveillance of search and browser histories of people in the United States.

The House is likely to vote on the Lofgren-Davidson amendment and the underlying bill soon after Memorial Day. The addition of these two amendments marks a significant victory for privacy-rights advocates who have long called for significant reforms to the surveillance reauthorization.  

Free Press Action Government Relations Director Sandra Fulton made the following statement:

“The narrow loss in the Senate of warrant protections for internet users' browser history was a huge disappointment last week. These protections are a critical safeguard against a Trump administration known to use its powers to target marginalized communities and others the president regards as enemies.

“Now, thanks to tremendous public support for these vital reforms, House leadership is reportedly ready to allow a vote on this common-sense bipartisan measure. It should seem obvious to everyone that national security agencies shouldn't be given access to our online browsing histories without a warrant.

“The Lofgren-Davidson amendment is a huge step in the right direction, and as Free Press Action has signaled to members of the House this week, passing the bill with this amendment in it would be a tremendous milestone in curbing abuses under the Patriot Act and other surveillance authorities.

“We are thrilled by the news that House leadership is moving towards a vote on this important fix, and look forward to continued bipartisan support for Lofgren-Davidson as the measure advances next week.”


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