US Senate Blocks Expansion Of FBI Surveillance Powers

A proposal backed by the US Republican party to extend the surveillance powers of the FBI has been voted down by the US Senate.

It comes after the republican party blocked gun control measures in the wake of the mass shooting at an Orlando gay nightclub earlier this month.

Voted Down

The legislation, filed as an amendment to a criminal justice funding bill, had intended to loosen restrictions on the FBI when gathering digital and telephone data on American citizens.

It would have allowed the FBI to use a secretive subpoena known as a national security letter, in order to obtain metadata (not content) including browser history, account logins, email records, message logs, all without a warrant.

The bill had been backed by the Obama administration and was expected to narrowly pass, but it fell two votes short of the required 60, according to Reuters.

It should be remembered that the FBI already has the ability to collect people’s data, under the 2001 Patriot Act, but only with a judge’s approval.

And last month the Supreme Court approved a rule change that could allow the FBI to hack into computers around the world.

FBI Setbacks

And this is not the first setback for the FBI in trying to obtain greater powers. The bureau suffered a high profile setback earlier this year when the FBI lost a battle to compel Apple to write a version of its mobile operating system with weaker security protections, so it could unlock the iPhone 5C that belonged to San Bernardino terrorist, Syed Rizwan Farook.

In the end the FBI resorted to paying so called ‘grey hat’ hackers to crack Farook’s iPhone, after Apple refused to co-operate, arguing that the FBI essentially wanted it to create a “backdoor” that could allow it to unlock any iPhone in the future.

On this side of the pond, the controversial Investigatory Powers Bill was passed by a clear majority of MPs in the Houses of Parliament earlier this month.

That act requires UK Internet Service Providers to store the web browsing history of all their customers, for 12 months, for government spooks.

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Tom Jowitt

Tom Jowitt is a leading British tech freelancer and long standing contributor to Silicon UK. He is also a bit of a Lord of the Rings nut...

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