House amendment would require warrants for web history searches

The Lofgren-Davidson amendment could protect Americans' internet privacy.

Tom Williams via Getty Images

A new House deal has the potential to prevent the nightmare scenario in which Feds might not need a warrant to see what sites you’ve visited, videos you’ve watched and searches you’ve made.

Earlier this month, we learned that the Senate was preparing to vote on a reauthorization of the Patriot Act. One amendment, proposed by Senators Steve Daines and Ron Wyden to prohibit the warrantless collection of search or browser histories, failed by one vote. Without such protections, the FBI might be able to obtain potentially sensitive browsing data without a warrant.

Today, Congresswoman Zoe Lofgren announced a House agreement to consider another amendment that could prohibit warrantless searches. If passed, the Lofgren-Davidson amendment would require the FBI to obtain a warrant before obtaining a US citizen’s web browsing or search information. The FBI would also need a warrant if it isn’t certain that its target is an American citizen but could be, or if it can’t guarantee that no US citizen’s IP address or device identifiers will be swept up in a search.

“Our internet activity opens a window into the most sensitive areas of our private life, and, this week, Representatives will be able to vote to prevent the government from using Section 215 to collect the websites we visit, the videos we watch and the searches we make. Without this prohibition, intelligence officials can potentially have access to information such as our personal health, religious practices, and political views without a warrant,” Lofgren said in a statement.

The amendment still needs to pass the House and then reconcile with the Senate, but it could protect the Fourth Amendment rights that may otherwise be at risk.