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US Lawmakers Push for Internet Privacy Amendments to USA Freedom Act

United States lawmakers this week will vote on an amendment to the surveillance bill known as the USA FREEDOM Reauthorization Act that would limit law enforcement access to people’s search and browsing histories.

Enacted in June 2015, the USA FREEDOM Act amends, among others, the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act of 1978 (FISA), and USA PATRIOT Act, imposing limits on the bulk collection of data on U.S. citizens by the National Security Agency (NSA) and other intelligence agencies.

If renewed, the USA Freedom Act would reauthorize several surveillance programs, allowing the Federal Bureau of Investigation, among others, to gain access to an individual’s Internet browsing and search history (from their Internet services provider) without a warrant.

An amendment introduced by Senator Ron Wyden (D - OR) and Senator Steve Daines (R - MT) to the USA FREEDOM Reauthorization Act (H.R. 6172), which aimed to prohibit the use of Section 215 of the USA PATRIOT Act to access such data without a warrant, was rejected in the Senate, one vote short of the 60 needed for approval.

This week, the House of Representatives will vote on the bipartisan amendment proposed by Representatives Zoe Lofgren (D-CA) and Warren Davidson (R-OH) to the USA FREEDOM Reauthorization Act, which seeks to prohibit the warrantless collection of such data. If the amendment is approved, the Senate would have to consider it too.

“After extensive bicameral, bipartisan deliberations, there will be a vote to include a final significant reform to Section 215 that protects Americans’ civil liberties,” Congresswoman Lofgren commented.

The amendment is supported by Reps. Adam Schiff, Chair of the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence, and Jerrold Nadler, Chair of the House Judiciary Committee.

“Representatives will be able to vote to prevent the government from using Section 215 to collect the websites we visit, the videos we watch and the searches we make. Without this prohibition, intelligence officials can potentially have access to information such as our personal health, religious practices, and political views without a warrant. As such, I urge my colleagues to support the Lofgren-Davidson amendment and Americans’ Fourth Amendment rights,” Rep. Lofgren continued.

Senator Wyden, one of the authors of the amendment that was ultimately rejected by the Senate, praised the Lofgren-Davidson initiative, underlining that it should eliminate law misinterpretations by making it clearer that Americans’ search and browsing histories cannot be collected pursuant to Section 215 of the PATRIOT Act.

“I applaud Rep. Lofgren for securing a vote on my amendment to ban warrantless collection of Americans’ internet activity. There are few things more private than where a person goes on the internet, or what they search for online, so the government must obtain a warrant to get that information. I urge the House to pass it, and the Senate to follow suit,” Sen. Wyden said.

The amendment clearly prohibits the collection of U.S. person records, of Virtual Private Networks that might be used by U.S. persons, and prevents the U.S. government from learning who accessed a website or online video unless it can guarantee that no U.S. person accessed that resource. Basically, the amendment fully eliminates the ‘incidental’ collection of the records of U.S. persons.

Related: Internet Organizations Ask US House to Limit Access to Search, Browsing History

Related: Senate Narrowly Rejects New Limits on Internet Surveillance

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