While Those Gun Control Bills Were Being Voted Down, This Concerning Piece Of Legislation Was Quietly Proposed
In the Senate on Monday, four high-profile gun control measures were voted down, while an entirely different type of bill was quietly proposed right underneath the nation's nose. Perhaps aware that the intensely debated gun laws would make a loud thunk, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell set up a vote to expand the Federal Bureau of Investigation's surveillance of email and Internet browsing history. The vote will be held no later than Wednesday, at which point a decision will be made. Several conservative senators have endorsed the provision already, however, suggesting it will have an easier time passing through the Republican-controlled Senate than the gun control bills did.
Gun control generated an astronomical amount of news coverage in an incredibly short period of time, and rightfully so. Two days after the shooting, which has become the deadliest in American history, President Barack Obama called on Congress to reinstate the ban on semiautomatic federal assault weapons and high capacity magazines — a ban that expired in 2004 and has been voted against in the years since. On June 15, Connecticut Sen. Chris Murphy led a nearly 15-hour filibuster to open up the vote for two gun control bills: one that would expand background checks and one that would ban people who have been on the terrorist watch list (the definition of which is murky) from acquiring a firearm license.
In line with the grim expectations, the Senate voted down a total of four bills: two filibustered by Murphy and two proposed by Republicans. The gun control debate was loud. It generated numerous petitions. But ultimately, it failed.
Meanwhile, Congress considered amending a criminal justice appropriations bill to allow the FBI to indiscriminately collect email data and browsing history without a search warrant. Though this means the FBI can act more quickly to perhaps derail an attack by someone on their "watch list," it also implies that they can collect mass amounts of email data from any citizen — no questions asked.
In a statement to the press, Arizona Sen. John McCain, who is sponsoring the bill, implied the amendment is necessary for investigating terrorists.
In the wake of the tragic massacre in Orlando, it is important our law enforcement have the tools they need to conduct counterterrorism investigations.
Others aren't as optimistic that the government will use these heightened "spying" powers for the greater good. The potential amendment has been debated in the past, and was not created in response to the Pulse shooting. At a Senate Intelligence Committee hearing in February 2016, FBI Director James Comey called the inability to limitlessly access email records a "typo" in the criminal justice appropriations bill. Since May, however, debate over the stealthily added provision has effectively fallen out of national discourse.