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Senate Votes Down FBI Spying Bill

  • Reuters

FILE - A magnifying glass is held in front of a computer screen in this picture illustration.

FILE - A magnifying glass is held in front of a computer screen in this picture illustration.

The U.S. Senate on Wednesday voted down a Republican-backed proposal to expand the Federal Bureau of Investigation's secretive surveillance powers after the mass shooting at an Orlando gay nightclub last week.

The legislation would have broadened the type of telephone and internet records the FBI could request from companies like Alphabet Inc and Verizon without a warrant to include email metadata and some internet browsing activity. The proposal met opposition from critics who said it threatened civil liberties and did little to improve national security.

The vote also represents a bi-partisan drift away from policy positions that favored digital privacy, which had taken hold in the three years since former National Security Agency contractor Edward Snowden revealed the breadth of government surveillance programs.

The post-Snowden moves included the most substantial reforms to the U.S. intelligence community since the September 11, 2001, attacks, and a refusal to heed the FBI's call for laws that would undermine encryption.

'Knee-jerk solutions'

Privacy groups and civil liberties advocates accused Republicans this week of exploiting the Orlando shooting to build support for unrelated legislation.

Senator Ron Wyden, an Oregon Democrat, criticized Senate Republicans for "pushing fake, knee-jerk solutions that will do nothing to prevent mass shootings or terrorist attacks."

Though Republicans invoked the Orlando shooting in support of the bill, FBI Director James Comey has said shooter Omar Mateen's transactional records were fully reviewed by authorities who investigated him twice for possible extremist ties.

Comey said there was "no indication" Mateen belonged to any extremist group and that it was unlikely authorities could have done anything differently to prevent the attack.