WASHINGTON -- A bipartisan effort to block warrantless surveillance of web browser search history came up one vote short of adoption in the Senate on Wednesday, but the supporters might still have sufficient support to adopt it.
A total of 59 senators backed the effort, offered as an amendment by Republican Sen. Steve Daines of Montana and Ron Wyden of Oregon, to a broader overhaul of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act. Under a prior agreement, 60 votes were required for adoption of the amendment.
But at least one absent senator, Democrat Patty Murray of Washington, would have supported the amendment. An aide said the senator was flying back to Washington, D.C.
The amendment could be the first test of how flexible the Senate will be in respecting the wishes of senators who miss votes during the coronavirus pandemic but could have affected the outcome if present.
Speaking on the floor ahead of the vote on his amendment, Daines said that the changes to surveillance authorities contained in the base bill already were not sufficient.
"We can and must protect our national security and protect our civil liberties by making targeted reforms that will keep everyday Americans, and their privacy secure, and continue to allow the government to go after the bad guys. The House bill does not go far enough," he said. "Montanans sent me to Congress to get government off their backs, and I'm working not only to get government off their backs, but to get government out of their phones, out of their computers and out of their private lives."
Speaking specifically about the amendment that came up short Wednesday, Daines argued that privacy rights should win out when it comes to browsing history on the internet.
"Browser data is some of the most personal and revealing information that can be collected on private citizens. Your internet search history can reveal extremely intimate information including personal health data, religious beliefs, political beliefs"" Daines said. "I don't think the government should have access to such private information without a warrant."
Supporters of the House bill have been warning that adopting any amendments could interfere with the ability to reauthorize three surveillance powers that have already lapsed. The House passed the full authorization measure, while the Senate passed an extension in March. The two chambers never reconciled.
"The problem is this passed the House overwhelmingly," Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., told reporters on Tuesday. "Sending it back to the House could shut things down, I'm afraid, when it comes to reauthorizing the surveillance programs we need."