Civics: Additional Warrantless Domestic Spying Legislation

Spencer Ackerman:

Barr has come under withering criticism from ex-Justice Department officials for corrupting his office on Trump’s behalf, starting with Robert Mueller last year. On Sunday, Mary McCord, a former senior department national-security official, accused Barr ally Timothy Shea of misrepresenting her position on the Flynn investigation in his brief for dropping the charges. A day later, former Roger Stone prosecutor Jonathan Kravis, a public-corruption expert, wrote that Barr had “betray[ed] the rule of law” by “directly intervenin[ing] to benefit the president’s associates.”

McConnell’s amendment blocks the FBI from seeking the “content” of web browsing and searching conducted by Americans. But it explicitly permits the warrantless collection of “Internet website browsing records or internet search history records.” Barr and other attorneys general approve guidelines for conducting such surveillance. 

Wyden and GOP colleague Steve Daines of Montana have been pushing to restrict warrantless web-browsing data collection by the intelligence agencies. Wyden considers McConnell’s amendment egregious.

“The reference to ‘content’ in the McConnell amendment is meaningless, since its application to web browsing has never been settled in the courts,” Wyden told The Daily Beast. “That’s just an invitation to Barr to engage in more secret interpretations of the law, which have led to abuses again and again.” That’s a reference to how the NSA and Justice Department, from 2006 until 2015, shoehorned the bulk collection of Americans’ phone records into part of the Patriot Act.