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Montana senators split votes on bill reauthorizing foreign, domestic surveillance

Montana Sens. Jon Tester and Steve Daines

(KPAX) Montana’s two U.S. senators split their final votes last week on a bill reauthorizing foreign and domestic surveillance rules – but both said the measure doesn’t go far enough in protecting U.S. citizens’ privacy rights.

U.S. Sen. Steve Daines, a Republican, voted for the USA Freedom Reauthorization Act, which passed the Senate Thursday on an 80-17 vote. Democratic U.S. Sen. Jon Tester was one of the “no” votes.

His office told MTN News Friday that he opposed the bill because it “threatens Americans’ privacy and civil liberties.”

“It continues to permit unreasonable searches and collections of Americans’ records without a warrant and does not put adequate guardrails on the Department of Justice or other agencies to prevent them from misusing the FISA process to spy on law-abiding Montanans,” it said in a statement.

While Daines voted for the final version of the bill, he co-sponsored an amendment that would have required the government to get a court-approved warrant before looking at any citizens’ Internet use.

The amendment lost by a single vote Wednesday, 59-37, failing to get the necessary 60 votes. Supporters of the amendment said they would try to attach similar language when the bill returns to the House for further consideration. Tester voted for the amendment, too.

In comments on the Senate floor Wednesday, Daines said Internet activity contains some of citizens’ most private material, and that the government shouldn’t be allowed to access it without getting a warrant from a regular court.

“Montanans sent me to Congress to get government off their backs,” he said. “And I’m working not only to get government off their backs, but to get government out of their phones, out of their computers, and out of their private lives.”

After the vote, Daines said he would continue working with colleagues “on both sides of the aisle” to increase privacy protections for U.S. citizens. Democratic Sen. Ron Wyden of Oregon co-sponsored the amendment with Daines.

The bill passed the House on a bipartisan vote in March. Montana’s only U.S. House member, Republican Greg Gianforte, voted against it.

The amended version now returns to the House.

Sen. Mike Lee, R-Utah, a critic of the bill who successfully added an amendment in the Senate, said he hopes that privacy advocates will continue to try to improve the bill in the House.

Lee’s amendment, which passed 77-19 on Wednesday with the support of Tester and Daines,
requires the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act court to appoint neutral third-party observers when it considers a sensitive investigative case.

The observer also would get access to all documents related to a request for surveillance approval.