In the almost 15 years since 9/11, we as Americans are all too familiar with knee-jerk reactions that blossom into policies and laws that seek to “protect” us while trampling on our rights -- all in the name of security.  Case in point, the Patriot Act.  After all of these years, this Act has done more in the way of eroding our rights in the name of security than one can count – and once again, Congress is looking to make it even worse.

Recently Sen. John McCain introduced an amendment (in a rather sneaky manner, without a hearing) that would expand provisions of the Patriot Act to allow for warrantless surveillance of Americans by the FBI.  Simply put, the language of Sen. McCain’s amendment would allow the government to gather information about our online communications – including browsing history, location information from IP addresses and the to/from lines of an email – all WITHOUT a court order, but rather a government order known as a National Security Letter (NSL).

NSLs are similar in function to a subpoena, but are used during terrorism and national security investigations.  Never heard of an NSL? You aren’t alone.  NSLs are usually issued with an accompanying “gag” order allowing the government to force companies to comply without allowing them to ever notify customers that information about them had been released. 

Some may say “so what? I don’t have anything to hide, let them look,” or “they already know everything I do anyway.” The issue is far more troubling than “letting them look.” We’ve become complacent in allowing the government to meddle in our private affairs.  We’ve started to self-censor, not visiting certain sites that may “flag” us, or not typing certain phrases or sentences in our emails.  These are our private communications; I certainly don’t want to have to be concerned when emailing a girlfriend about something my husband did and jokingly typing “I’m going to kill him!” Now, that’s not to say that information gathering altogether is a bad thing; it’s not, but there is a time, place and proper channel that should be followed when gathering sensitive information.   

This is where we need your help.  Sen. McCain’s amendment failed to pass by 2 votes – 2 votes!! Senator Mitch McConnell, the Senate Majority Leader, can still bring this up for a vote when the Senate returns from its summer recess.  Both Senator Reed and Senator Whitehouse voted in favor of the McCain expansion.  If you agree with the ACLU’s position that the FBI should not be allowed to gather sensitive electronic information without a warrant, please make a call to Senators Reed and Whitehouse and ask them to vote against this amendment and to urge their colleagues in the Senate to do the same. 

For more information on the McCain amendment and what it would allow, visit:

Contact information for the district offices:
Senator Jack Reed -- (401) 943-3100
Senator Sheldon Whitehouse – (401) 453-5294