Congress Is Alarmingly Close to Handing Trump Dangerous Spying Powers

And Adam Schiff, of all people, is the one giving it to him

Trevor Timm
Published in
5 min readMay 28, 2020
Adam Schiff. Photo: Thierry Monasse/Getty Images

For a few hours on Tuesday, it looked like the House of Representatives would finally vote to give Americans some much-needed online privacy protection against government abuse. The House seemed set to agree to a powerful reform of the Patriot Act: an amendment that would implement key privacy safeguards on our web browsing and search histories that would protect them from being accessed wholesale by the Trump administration.

But now, so-called #resistance hero Adam Schiff may have—once again—helped kill that reform.

Schiff, who saw his profile soar during the impeachment saga, has previously accused Trump of wanting to “make himself a monarch” and says that Trump thinks “presidents have a constitutional right to abuse their power.” In his viral speech during the impeachment hearings, Schiff said of the president, “You will not change him. You cannot constrain him. He is who he is.”

So it seems extra bizarre that Schiff — who is also chair of the powerful House Intelligence Committee — has continually moved to protect Trump’s ability to warrantlessly spy on Americans and even strengthen Trump’s surveillance powers.

The latest occurrence came on Tuesday night. Congress has been embroiled in debate over the potential renewal of three controversial provisions of the Patriot Act, the post-9/11 spying bill that has been harshly criticized by civil liberties advocates for almost two decades. At issue in Congress is the fact that Section 215 of the Patriot Act (the provision once secretly reinterpreted by the FISA court to authorize the NSA’s mass phone surveillance program) allows the Trump administration to gather the internet browsing and search histories of Americans without a warrant.

Sen. Ron Wyden had proposed an amendment that would require federal authorities to get a probable cause warrant before ever accessing this data. It seemed like a popular no-brainer: Web browsing and search history is some of the most sensitive content online, and internet privacy has never been a bigger concern to the public.



Trevor Timm
Writer for

Trevor Timm is the executive director of Freedom of the Press Foundation. His writing has appeared the New York Times, the Guardian, and the Intercept.