Protracted debate about the federal government’s ability to collect Americans’ telephone metadata without a warrant, a matter which never was resolved, looks to be taking a back-seat, as the FBI is now pushing for a dramatic expansion of that power to include Internet metadata.
While telephone metadata was just who called whom and for how long, the Internet version amounts to unrestricted access to the browser history of every American, including what websites they visit, and what pages in particular they read.
Privacy groups are blasting the move, noting that the data would “paint an incredibly intimate picture of an individual’s life,” including things like political affiliation, medical conditions, religion, and sexual orientation.
FBI Director James Comey, however, insists that the law which lists all the metadata they can collect without a warrant, and which doesn’t mention browser histories, amounts to a “typo” in the law, and is demanding that Congress “fix” the matter so the FBI can force companies to hand over all that personal data. The FBI maintains the list in the law was meant to be “illustrative” of the type of things they can demand, and not all-inclusive.
Facebook, Yahoo, and Google are among a number of technology companies lining up to resist the change in the law, both because of the lack of judicial oversight such a broad new data collection plan would involve, and also because in practice the change in law would force them to do all the heavy lifting of collecting this data for the FBI to sift through.