FBI May Get Expanded Warrantless Access to Online Records

FBI May Get Expanded Warrantless Access to Online Records

The US senators believe that a new bill would vastly expand the warrant-less access of the Federal Bureau of Investigation to online records of the US citizens. A public version of the bill would be released in a few days, as Senate intelligence committee members are given 3 working days to submit supplemental, minority, or additional views. The resulting report will be made public after all comments are compiled.

The wording of the 2017 intelligence authorization bill is not yet available to the public, but two senators have already said that it could expand the remit of a non-judicial subpoena known as a National Security Letter to acquire people’s email records, browser histories and other kinds of online data.

National Security Letters usually apply to phone or banking records and email addresses, but the intelligence authorization bill will change the scope of the term “electronic communications transaction records”. Senator Ron Wyden called it a sweeping expansion of warrantless surveillance.

Obscure before the 9/11 attacks, the FBI has come to rely significantly on National Security Letters, which come exclusively from the executive branch, and not with a judge’s approval. The letters are served to communications providers or banks along with gag orders preventing the recipient from disclosing their content.

The FBI typically issues an average of 60 National Security Letters each day. Last year, the agency issued 12,870 letters, representing 48,642 warrantless requests for information. Back in 2015, a recipient of such a letter won a decade-long fight to disclose the content of the subpoena received by a web-hosting company.