UPDATE: Sen. Patty Murray Not Present to Vote on Bipartisan Amendment That Would Have Increased Online Privacy

by Carolyn Bick

Washington State Sen. Patty Murray (D) was among the four United States senators who didn’t vote on a bipartisan amendment that would have prevented law enforcement agencies from obtaining Americans’ internet search histories and web browsing activities without a warrant.

The amendment to H.R. 6172 needed 60 in-person votes to pass, and failed by one vote, according to Gizmodo. Sens. Bernie Sanders (I-VT), Lamar Alexander (R-TN), and Ben Sasse (R-NE) were the other three senators who did not vote, though Alexander is currently in self-isolation, after a member of his staff tested positive for COVID-19.

H.R. 6172, or the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA), renews surveillance powers of law enforcement agencies, including allowing the government to force phone companies and internet service providers to turn over users’ data, if the government decides the information is relevant to counterterrorism or counterespionage work. The word ‘relevant’ is not clearly defined. The amendment would have added language that required search warrants for this information.

In response to the Emerald‘s query, Murray’s office said that the senator was on her way back to Washington, D.C., when the vote was called, and would have voted for the amendment. She voted against the reauthorization of the overall act without the amendment.

Her office released a statement today, in which the senator condemned the act’s renewal, saying that data privacy is “a serious issue with implications not just for our intelligence community, but for the rights and privacy of millions of people in my home state of Washington and across the country.”

“So while I appreciate that my colleagues have taken meaningful steps to improve the law by restricting and bolstering oversight of the sweeping surveillance powers authorized under FISA, these reforms still don’t go far enough to protect Americans’ civil liberties,” the statement reads.

The Emerald has reached out to the American Civil Liberties Union seeking comment, and will update this story as more information becomes available.

Read the full amendment here.

Carolyn Bick is a journalist and photographer based in South Seattle. You can reach them here.

Featured photo courtesy of Senate Democrats.