On privacy issues, Franken and Klobuchar couldn’t be more different

Tim Pugmire | MPR News file

If you ever wanted to assess the difference between DFL senators Amy Klobuchar and Al Franken, this week’s vote to allow authorities to access phone logs, email records, cell-site data used to pinpoint locations, and your browser’s history without a warrant is a good place to start.

Franken is a fan of privacy and warrants. Klobuchar, not so much.

The effort failed in the Senate on Wednesday by a single vote, falling short of the required 60 votes needed to attach it to a larger bill.

Klobuchar, a former prosecutor, was one of only 10 Democrats in the Senate who joined Republicans in the effort for warrantless searches.

Franken, who has consistently made privacy a cornerstone of legislative efforts, voted against the measure.

It came from Sen. John McCain, the latest attempt to rid the nation of the need for warrants to snoop on Americans in the name of fighting terrorism.

The issue isn’t dead. Senate boss Mitch McConnell immediately moved for reconsideration at a later date, figuring he’ll be able to find another “yes” vote somewhere.

“In the wake of the tragic massacre in Orlando, it is important our law enforcement have the tools they need to conduct counterterrorism investigations and track ‘lone wolves,’ or ISIL-inspired terrorists who do not have direct connections to foreign terrorist organizations but who seek to harm Americans,” Sen. McCain said in a press release.

Of course, authorities already do have the tools needed; they just need a warrant to prevent illegal spying on Americans. Instead, the Obama administration wants access to information, using only a National Security Letter, which can be issued by an FBI agent in charge of a field office.

Privacy groups this week warned that the measure exposes more information than the bill’s supporter’s claim, the Washington Post reported.

The new categories of information that could be collected using an NSL “would paint an incredibly intimate picture” of a person’s life, said the letter, signed by the American Civil Liberties Union, Amnesty International USA, the Computer & Communications Industry Association, Google, Facebook and Yahoo, among others.

For example, a person’s browsing history, location information and certain email data could reveal details about a person’s political affiliation, medical conditions, religion and movements throughout the day, they said.

In addition, the NSL would come with a gag order preventing the company from disclosing it had a received a government request, said Neema Singh Guliani, ACLU legislative counsel.

The letter noted that over the past 10 years, the FBI has issued more than 300,000 NSLs, most of which had gag orders. “That’s the perfect storm of more information gathered, less transparency and no accountability,” Gulani said.

Trevor Timm, head of the Freedom of the Press Foundation, writes that the Republican-led effort is using the Orlando shooting as a cover for an assault on privacy.

The justice department convinced the fourth circuit court of appeals last month to overturn its previous ruling that police need a probable cause warrant to get such information.

The court agreed with the justice department that cellphone users don’t have a “reasonable expectation of privacy” around their location, even though it is some of the most intimate information that exists, giving law enforcement officials a detailed picture of your life that even your close friends and family may not know.

Last year, the FBI director disingenuously tried to claim that the pendulum “has swung too far” in the way of privacy, despite the fact that the agency has virtually unprecedented access to all sorts of information on Americans. If it wasn’t clear before, it should be now: they plan on using any means necessary to further erode the rights of hundreds of millions of citizens in their crusade against privacy.

FBI Director James Comey says if his agency had the permission to spy without warrants, it would have helped law enforcement thwart the shooting at the Pulse nightclub that killed 49 people.

“The FBI had the shooter under investigation twice, and according to FBI Director Comey himself, they obtained his transactional records during the course of their investigation,” Robyn Green, Policy Counsel for New America’s Open Technology Institute, told the Christian Science Monitor.