Fixing a “typo” in a law governing domestic surveillance is the top priority for the bureau this year, FBI Director James B. Comey has said.
A “typo?” Tech companies and privacy advocates are strenuously disagreeing with his characterization of the proposed amendment, which would give the FBI explicit authority to access a person’s internet browser history and other electronic data without a warrant in terrorism and spy cases.
At the FBI’s request, lawmakers have put forth legislation that would amend the Electronic Communications Privacy Act (ECPA), which Comey claims now lets some tech companies refuse to hand over data that, the government claims, Congress had intended for them to provide.
The proposed legislation would do away with the necessity to get a warrant for such data and would let the government get a national security letter (NSL) instead: a subpoena that doesn’t require a judge’s approval.
The Senate Intelligence Committee panel recently voted out an authorization bill with the NSL amendment, but it’s since crept back, reintroduced in an amendment to the ECPA floated last week by Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas).
Cornyn’s on-message with the FBI. As reported by The Washington Post, he referred to Comey’s “typo” in the law as a “scrivener’s error” that’s “needlessly hamstringing our counterintelligence and counterterrorism efforts.”
If the amendment passes, it would allow the FBI to access internet browsing records without a warrant in terrorism and spy cases. That doesn’t mean they’d get at the content of email: rather, with an NSL, the Feds could access a host of online information, including IP addresses, routing and transmission information, session data, and more.