In a landmark vote, the Senate narrowly defeated a bill brought forward by Senator Ron Wyden of Oregon. The bill, sought to take out section 215 of the Patriot Act. With the vote coming up one shy of the necessary 60 votes, Section 215 will remain in place. Currently, section 215 allows government agencies to gain access to various search queries made by citizens of the United States. The only stipulation is that the target must be a “person of interest” which holds little to no legal defintion.
The Patriot Act has been the subject of much controversy, particularly in the past several years. Edward Snowden is credited with bringing light to abuses by the NSA in regards to an American citizen’s right to privacy. The Patriot Act has been heavily scrutinized, with most opponents claiming that the government is in violation of the Fourth Amendment, which provides Americans protections against unreasonable searches.
With Section 215 of the Patriot Act still intact, various government agencies will be able to gain access to private citizen’s search data without a search warrant. This opens the door to many questions, many of which are likely to remain in a gray area. The ease of law enforcement to obtain these records is likely to raise questions. Will a government agency have to provide a formal request for information? Will law enforcement have blanket access to a dashboard of sorts that will allow user data to be easily accessed? Will tech companies now be required to maintain user data for a specified period of time?
With this landmark legislation failing to pass, it is likely we will see a rise in the growth of online privacy providers. Anonymous search engines such as DuckDuckGo may see a rise in traffic. Providers of VPNs may see a rise in subscriptions. It goes without saying, that a growing number of Americans are truly concerned about their rights to privacy. Several senators have already spoken out against this decision, including the author, Ron Wyden.