A new Senate provision to the Intelligence Authorization Act for 2016 requiring social media sites to report “terrorist activity” to federal law enforcement drew the ire of Ron Wyden (D-OR) on Tuesday. The Intelligence Committee member objected to Senate leadership’s request to pass the bill through unanimous consent, a parliamentary procedure used to pass legislation without debate or amendment.
Senator Wyden noted in his official statement of objection that the Internet Association (a leading lobbyist group in Washington which represents Google, Amazon, Facebook, and Twitter), claims the provision will cause “‘an enormous compliance problem’ and lead to ‘massive reporting of items that are not likely to be of material concern to public safety’.”
In his statement, the Senator went on to point out that, “I haven’t yet heard any law enforcement or intelligence agencies suggest that the provision will actually help catch terrorists.”
The Intelligence Authorization Act, originally passed in 1991, requires covert operations performed by federal agencies to be approved by the President and reported to Congress. Intelligence bills in recent years have included budget authorizations for activities of the CIA, FBI, NSA, Department of Defense, DEA, DHS, and the Director of National Intelligence.
FBI Director James Comey hasn’t yet publicly endorsed the Senate bill’s provision, calling it “an interesting idea” at a Senate Intelligence committee hearing earlier in July. He went on to testify that social media sites “are pretty good about telling us what they see.”
While the FBI might not be willing to jump into the political debate directly at this point, in a speech at a security conference last week in Aspen Director Comey said that terrorist organizations have over 21,000 English-speaking followers on Twitter.
Comey also pointed out that in the last year ISIS has been engaging in a social media campaign encouraging people to “kill where you are.”
Sen. Wyden says that he will support the re-authorization bill once language is stripped out requiring websites to take “drastic steps” to root out terrorist organizations.