Statement of Senator Patrick Leahy On McCain Amendment 4787 to the CJS Appropriations Bill

Statement of Senator Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.),
Ranking Member, Senate Judiciary Committee,
On McCain Amendment 4787 to the CJS Appropriations Bill

June 22, 2016

Earlier this week, Senate Republicans once again blocked sensible gun safety measures that the majority of Americans support. And now the Republican leadership wants to change the subject. They are resorting to scare tactics to divert the attention of the American people from their failure to act in response to mass shootings.

Let’s be clear about what we need to stay safe. We need universal background checks for firearms purchases. We need to give the FBI the authority to deny guns to terrorist suspects. Senate Republicans rejected those commonsense measures earlier this week, but we still have the chance to give law enforcement real and effective tools. We should strengthen our laws to make it easier to prosecute firearms traffickers and straw purchasers. And we need to fund the FBI and the Justice Department so they have the resources they need to combat acts of terrorism and hate. Those are the elements of the amendment that Senators Mikulski, Baldwin, Nelson and I filed yesterday.

In contrast, Republicans are proposing to reduce independent oversight of FBI investigations, and make permanent a law that as of last year had never been used. The McCain amendment would eliminate the requirement for a court order when the FBI wants to obtain detailed information about Americans’ Internet activities in national security investigations. This could cover websites Americans have visited; extensive information on who Americans communicate with through email, chat, and text messages; and where and when Americans log onto the Internet and into social media accounts. Over time, this information would provide highly revealing details about Americans’ personal lives – all obtained without prior court approval. That is why this amendment is opposed by major technology companies and privacy groups across the political spectrum – from FreedomWorks to Google to the ACLU.

Senator Cornyn and others have argued that we cannot prevent people on the terrorist watch list from obtaining firearms without due process and judicial review. Yet at the same time they are proposing to remove judicial approval when the FBI wants to find out what websites Americans are visiting. The FBI already has authority to obtain this information – if it obtains a court order under Section 215 of the USA PATRIOT Act.

Rather than trying to distract us from their opposition to common-sense gun measures, Republicans should support actions that will help protect us, like those in the amendment filed by Senators Mikulski, Baldwin, Nelson, and myself. I urge Senators to oppose the McCain amendment, and to support measures that will actually help keep our country safe.

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