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Senate nixes plan for warrantless FBI searches of internet browsing histories

Amendment would have expanded the types of communication records the FBI could demand without a court order.

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Steven Musil
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Steven Musil Night Editor / News

Steven Musil is the night news editor at CNET News. He's been hooked on tech since learning BASIC in the late '70s. When not cleaning up after his daughter and son, Steven can be found pedaling around the San Francisco Bay Area. Before joining CNET in 2000, Steven spent 10 years at various Bay Area newspapers.

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The US Senate on Wednesday narrowly rejected a proposal that would have expanded the FBI's surveillance powers, including allowing searches of internet browsing histories without a court order.

The legislation, included as an amendment to a criminal-justice funding bill, would have expanded the types of communications records the FBI could have demanded by submitting national security letters, which don't require court approval. The proposal would have granted the FBI expanded access to telephone and internet records, including browser histories and email metadata.

The amendment, introduced earlier this week by Sen. John McCain (R-Arizona) to "track lone wolves" in the wake of the Orlando, Florida, massacre, fell two votes short of the required 60 votes to advance.

But the vote doesn't mean the measure is dead. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Kentucky) switched his vote to "no" at the last minute, allowing him to bring it up for reconsideration as early as next week.