On Monday, June 20, 2016, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, John McCain, and other Republicans called for an expansion of FBI surveillance powers as a response to the mass shooting in Orlando, Florida, that killed 49 people at a gay nightclub. The Senate vote is expected by Wednesday.
The bill would allow the FBI to view a suspect’s web browsing history, I.P. addresses, and who he or she corresponds with via email without a warrant. Authority would be granted under “national security letters,” which currently limit the FBI to looking at phone information without a warrant. The Obama administration is a proponent of this expansion of FBI power.
The bill would also make permanent the ability of the Justice Department to monitor “lone wolf” suspects that do not have known ties to terror groups.
The Patriot Act of 2001, passed after 9/11, opened the door to broad expansion of State surveillance, which culminated in National Security Administration analyst Edward Snowden exposing details of the NSA’s massive domestic spying program. The intelligence files he leaked to the press revealed the government was keeping records of nearly 2 billion phone calls, text messages, and emails every day. Despite the fact that some Americans labeled Snowden a “traitor,” a massive public uproar against the government spurred by Snowden’s revelations pushed President Obama to terminate the spying program in June 2015.
The current bill is viewed by liberal opponents as yet another egregious violation of privacy and liberty, an unacceptable expansion of government. Conservative supporters believe “it is important our law enforcement have the tools they need to conduct counterterrorism investigations,” as McCain said.
The call for greater surveillance came on the same day Republican senators voted down measures that would have expanded background checks for gun buyers, banned people on the terror watch list from buying guns, and other steps.