US lawmakers have approved a bill that would give the Federal Bureau of Investigation broad powers to collect private data about US citizens in a bid to combat the threat of terror.
Key points:The bill, the Protect America Act, would allow the FBI to gather and store data on every US person’s phone calls, text messages, emails and social media activity, with a court-ordered warrant.
It was introduced on Thursday, just two days after a man was shot dead in a suburb of Kansas City, Missouri, by police who believed he was linked to the al-Qaida-linked group.
President Barack Obama said the bill would give law enforcement “more tools to keep our country safe.”
“We must do more to stop terrorist attacks and make sure that we have the tools we need to protect our citizens,” he said.
“If we can make our communities safer, then we are better prepared to protect the American people.
We can do that through the adoption of a bill like this.”
The bill has attracted criticism from civil liberties advocates and privacy groups, who say the bill could be used to expand surveillance powers and potentially infringe on Americans’ civil liberties.
Critics argue the bill is unconstitutional and should be blocked.
“We know that the bill has no meaningful oversight,” said Sen Patty Murray, the Democratic leader of the Senate Judiciary Committee, when the bill was first introduced.
“And we’re confident it will never be approved.
I don’t think the American public is interested in being spied on.
They’re interested in knowing if their data has been used for nefarious purposes.”
Senator John McCain, the Republican chairman of the US Senate Armed Services Committee, said he has seen no evidence that the FBI is being abused in the wake of the San Bernardino attack.
“This is not about getting terrorists’ phones, it’s about stopping terrorists and the next attack,” he told reporters on Thursday.
“There are a lot of people who think the government is not going to stop terrorists, and I think the public would be very disappointed in that.”
Senators are also expected to vote next week on a bill which would extend the Patriot Act for five years, allowing the FBI and Department of Homeland Security to share information about Americans’ electronic devices and communications without a warrant.
The legislation, introduced by Senator Ron Wyden, a Democrat from Oregon, would give federal agents broad powers over US citizens’ communications and phone records.
“It’s time for Congress to stop the overreach of the Patriot law,” he wrote in a statement.
“Instead of passing a new Patriot Act, Congress should reform the Patriot Law, strengthen protections for Americans’ privacy, and give the FBI greater tools to combat terrorist threats.”
Critics say the Patriot laws have been abused by government officials to spy on Americans, and that they have become an unnecessary dragnet under the Obama administration.
Senator Ron Wurzer, a Republican from Montana, called the legislation “ridiculous” and said he would introduce a separate bill to restrict the FBI’s use of data collected under the Patriot act.
“The Patriot Act is not working, and there is no need for it,” he added.
“I will be voting to reinstate the Patriot powers that were stripped from us.”US President Barack Obama leaves after a meeting with top national security officials at the White House in Washington, DC, US December 22, 2017.
The bill was introduced by Republican Senator Ron Johnson of Wisconsin, a co-sponsor of the bill, and Democratic Senator Ron Menendez of New Jersey, a member of the Foreign Relations Committee.
It is expected to pass the Senate on Friday, with support from Republicans and Democrats in the House of Representatives.
The FBI would be allowed to collect information on US citizens for two years and use it to investigate suspected terrorists, though they could also obtain the information for foreign intelligence purposes.
The agency would also be allowed “to use this information to investigate the conduct of US persons abroad,” according to the legislation.
But critics say the law does not go far enough.
“As we’ve seen from the Snowden revelations, the Patriot program has not been used to prevent terrorism, it has been abused,” Senator Patrick Leahy, the top Democrat on the Senate Intelligence Committee, told reporters.
“What we need now is a much stronger and more effective law that protects Americans from mass surveillance.”US Senator Rand Paul, a libertarian from Kentucky, said the Patriot bill was “dangerous” and should not be passed.
“Americans should not have to give up their privacy just to avoid fear of being surveilled,” he tweeted.
“No amount of ‘privacy’ should ever make us safer.”