May 26, 2020

Wyden Statement on Upcoming House Vote on FISA Amendment to Ban Warrantless Surveillance of Americans’ Internet Activity

U.S. Senator Ron Wyden, D-Ore., today issued the following statement regarding Rep. Zoe Lofgren, D-Calif., securing a vote on an amendment to ban warrantless surveillance of Americans’ internet searches and web browsing in the House FISA reauthorization bill:

“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.

“Because of the unfortunate history of secret government and FISA Court misinterpretations of plain law, I want to emphasize what this amendment does and what it does not allow. The language announced today is clear: the government cannot collect records that include the web browsing or internet searches of U.S. persons pursuant to Section 215 of the PATRIOT Act. As the overwhelming bipartisan majority of the U.S. Senate has demonstrated, Americans do not want the government looking at the websites they visit, the YouTube videos they watch and the internet searches they conduct without a warrant.  

“The House language protects U.S. persons with the same clear blanket prohibition provided by my Senate amendment. That means that it doesn’t matter if the government specifically intends to collect U.S. person records or not. Nor does the government get to decide when it is ‘reasonable’ to believe it is not collecting U.S. person records. If the person whose web browsing or internet searches are of interest could be a U.S. person, the collection is prohibited. The government cannot collect on Virtual Private Networks that might be used by U.S. persons. Should the government be interested in who visited a website or watched a YouTube video, if there is any possibility those people are U.S. persons, the collection is prohibited. Unlike in other FISA contexts, there is no ‘incidental’ collection of the records of U.S. persons permitted. Finally, if, despite these clear prohibitions, a mistake is made and U.S. person records are collected, they must be immediately deleted.

“Next comes accountability and transparency. There must be congressional oversight. Providers are responsible for respecting the clear prohibition in the law. The independent amici at the FISA Court should help ensure that Congress’s and the American public’s understanding of the law is respected. And any FISA Court opinion interpreting this provision must be made public, as is required by the law.”