Senate Filibusters Legislation to Enable Law Enforcement to More Effectively Combat Terrorism

WASHINGTON – Today, by a vote of 58-38, the Senate failed to move forward with consideration of an amendment that would enable the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) to more quickly obtain the electronic transaction records of suspected terrorists.  U.S. Senators Richard Burr (R-NC), Chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, and John McCain (R-AZ), Chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, offered the amendment on Monday evening. 

“We must equip our law enforcement with the tools to combat terrorism, and I am disappointed that the Senate is currently at a stalemate even though the majority clearly supports this important amendment,” said Sen. Burr. “The threat posed by the Islamic State and other terror groups continues to grow and we must do all we can to provide our law enforcement officers and analysts the tools they need.  The Central Intelligence Agency Director last week testified before my committee that the Islamic State has called for intensified attacks against the west.  We cannot sit idly by while more Americans are endangered.  I thank my cosponsors for their support and look forward to another opportunity for Congress to take action to enable law enforcement to protect Americans from the increasing terror threat.”

“I am grateful to Senator Burr for his leadership on these issues,” said Senator McCain. “It is disappointing that my colleagues in the Senate voted down our amendment to give law enforcement a counterterrorism authority that the FBI considers its number one priority. To be clear, this amendment would not have allowed the FBI access to the content of private messages, but would have given law enforcement the ability to look at non-content electronic communication transactional records in the course of a national security investigation, such as how much time a suspicious individual spends on a website. I will continue working to advance policies in the Senate to keep Americans safe. ” 

The amendment clarifies the authorities of the FBI to allow it to obtain electronic communication transactional records in the course of national security investigations. Currently, the FBI can obtain these non-content transactional telephone records and financial records but not internet records due to conflicting legal interpretations, which is hamstringing the FBI’s ability to obtain important information in national security investigations. FBI Director James Comey has identified this provision as the FBI’s top legislative priority. 

The amendment would also make permanent existing authorities under the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act that allow for the monitoring of non-U.S. citizen “lone wolf” terrorists, including ISIS-inspired terrorists who do not have direct connections to foreign terrorist organizations. 

Senator Burr introduced similar legislation last year.