Pro-Privacy Lawmakers Secure a Vote to Protect Browsing Data From Warrantless FBI Collection

Rep. Zoe Lofgren (D-CA), who along with Rep. Warren Davidson (D-OH) has led efforts to reform the USA Patriot Act in the House, is photographed walking to the Senate floor during the impeachment trial of President Trump on January 27, 2020 in Washington, DC.  (Photo: Samuel Corum, Getty)
Rep. Zoe Lofgren (D-CA), who along with Rep. Warren Davidson (D-OH) has led efforts to reform the USA Patriot Act in the House, is photographed walking to the Senate floor during the impeachment trial of President Trump on January 27, 2020 in Washington, DC. (Photo: Samuel Corum, Getty)

In a hard-fought victory for privacy reformers, the U.S. House of Representatives is now expected to vote as early as Wednesday on an amendment that would explicitly prohibit the warrantless collection of internet search and browsing history without a warrant, sources tell Gizmodo.

The decision comes after a week of difficult negotiations between Democratic leaders, who’ve overwhelmingly opposed the vote, and progressives and libertarian-leaning lawmakers who’ve found commonality through a mutual disdain for unbridled government surveillance.

“This provision enjoys broad bipartisan support in both the House and the Senate. I’m glad that we’ll get to vote on this important measure to protect Americans’ Third and Fourth Amendment rights,” Rep. Warren Davidson, Republican of Ohio, said.

“This reform — while just the tip of the iceberg — is a major step forward in protecting Americans’ right to privacy,” he added.

Politico first reported on the agreement to allow a vote.

Davidson, a House Freedom Caucus member who assumed former House Speaker John Boehner’s seat in 2016, has formed an alliance with Rep. Zoe Lofgren, Democrat of California, who has more than 15 years experience fighting for post-9/11 surveillance reform.

Though their political views greatly diverge on other matters, the two lawmakers have rallied a powerful coalition of supporters in Washington and beyond. Their focus has been to amend the USA FREEDOM Reauthorization Act, which will reinstate several surveillance tools that expired on March 15, including the collecting of “business records” under Section 215 of the Patriot Act.

Lofgren and Davidson will offer up an amendment to the re-authorization bill, a companion to the Senate’s Wyden-Daines amendment, which came only one vote shy of passing lass week (due to a handful of members being absent). If passed, the amended bill would expressly prohibit use of Section 215 for the warrantless collection of search and browsing history.

Republican close to the negotiations say this moment poses a unique opportunity for civil libertarians who remain incensed over the intelligence community’s (IC) repetitious abuse of its surveillance authority. President Trump’s allegations that the FBI unlawfully spied on his 2016 campaign has given some law-and-order Republicans not only the cover to openly oppose the IC’s domestic surveillance agenda, but the means to campaign on reform.

The announcement of a vote follows a week of negotiations with Democratic leaders, including House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and top lawmakers on the Judiciary and Intelligence Committees. According to sources with knowledge of the discussions, who were granted anonymity to speak frankly, Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam Schiff has served as a primary roadblock in attempts to rein in the IC.

Despite securing a vote, privacy advocates remain wary of additional attempts to undermine their efforts.

Among those pushing to curb warrantless surveillance, several major tech companies signed a letter on Thursday urging Pelosi to allow a vote on the Lofgren-Davidson amendment. Apple, Facebook, Google, and Microsoft — members of the Reform Government Surveillance coalition — wrote that search and browsing history provides “a detailed portrait of our private lives,” including information about “medical conditions, religious beliefs, and personal relationships.”

“Some of us do not collect this information; some of us have pressed the courts to adopt a higher standard for this data; all of us believe this information should only be produced with a warrant,” the tech companies said.