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Civil liberties groups are urging Congress to block the FBI from viewing Americans’ web-browsing history without a warrant


Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell of Ky., holds a face mask used to protect against the spread of the new coronavirus as he attends a news conference on Capitol Hill in Washington, Tuesday, May 12, 2020. (AP Photo/Patrick Semansky)

More than 50 groups from across the political spectrum urged lawmakers to block legislation that would let the FBI see American’s browsing and search history without a warrant in a letter this week.
The Senate last week passed a reauthorization of the Patriot Act that included language from Mitch McConnell granting the FBI authority to see web-browsing records without a warrant.
A bipartisan amendment to block such warrantless searches failed in the Senate by just one vote. Multiple senators who would have supported it were not present for the vote because of COVID-19 precautions.
The Patriot Act reauthorization will now be considered by the House of Representatives.
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Pressure is mounting from civil liberties groups in opposition to a bill that would grant the FBI sweeping new surveillance powers, including the ability to view Americans’ web-browsing and search history without a warrant.

The measure moved one step closer to becoming law last week. It was first introduced by Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell as part of a bill to reauthorize the 2002 Patriot Act, including language that would let the FBI access people’s browsing records if they’re deemed relevant to an investigation without first getting a judge’s approval.

A coalition of Republicans and Democrats introduced an amendment to the bill last week that would have explicitly blocked such FBI surveillance, but it failed by just one vote in the Senate. Four Senators were not present for the vote, including one self-quarantining for COVID-19 and one who said she would have supported the amendment but was on a flight to DC when the vote took place.

Now, the bill will move to the House of Representatives — and more than 50 civil liberties and tech advocacy groups including the ACLU, Human Rights Watch, the NAACP, and Fight for the Future are calling on House lawmakers to pass a similar amendment blocking such FBI surveillance.

“The FBI should not be allowed to use the PATRIOT Act to surveil Americans’ online activity without a warrant. Internet search and browsing history is extremely revealing in nature and the Fourth Amendment requires a warrant to obtain this information,” the organizations wrote in the letter, first reported by The Register.

If the bill passes the House, it will move to President Donald Trump’s desk to be signed into law. Trump previously suggested that he might veto the entire Patriot Act renewal, but has yet to take a clear stance on the bill.

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