Rep. Mike Fitzpatrick Introduces Bill To Smack The NSA In The Wallet For Each Data Collection Violation

from the keyed-in-the-wrong-country-code?-that's-a-paddlin' dept

Another day and another legislative attempt to rein in the NSA. NJ Congressman Rush Holt led the way by announcing his plan to introduce a bill to repeal the PATRIOT Act and the FISA Amendments act back on July 11th. This was followed by Michigan Congressman Justin Amash’s attempt to attach an NSA-defunding amendment to the Dept. of Defense appropriations bill making its way through the house.

A little later, Amash’s amendment suffered a narrow defeat, thanks in part to the Chairman of the House Intelligence Committee withholding key information from other members of Congress. Rush Holt’s bill is still a work in progress and Amash is planning legislation of his own that will set out to do what his failed amendment attempted. Meanwhile, a whole bunch of others in Congress have jumped in as well, which the ACLU has been conveniently tracking.

Now, another Congressman, Mike Fitzpatrick of Pennsylvania, is introducing his own legislation.

Rep. Mike Fitzpatrick (R-Pa.) proposed legislation on Monday that would cut National Security Agency (NSA) funding if it violates new surveillance rules aimed at preventing broad data collection on millions of people.

“This bill tells the NSA that if they unlawfully spy on Americans again, Congress will take away their funding,” Fitzpatrick said of his NSA Accountability Act. “The bill also makes it clear that the NSA can only track Americans where strong evidence suggests they are doing wrong.”

The three-term Republican said his bill is a reaction to this month’s press reports saying that the NSA overstepped its bounds thousands of times as it collected data on Americans from April 2011 to March 2012. An audit published by The Washington Post reported nearly 2,800 incidents of unauthorized data collection and storage.

Unlike the NSA’s surveillance efforts (zing!), Fitzpatrick’s bill is specifically targeted to problematic wording in the FISA Act, making a few changes to Section 501 subsection (b)(2)(a). Here’s how his proposed changes would alter the current wording. [Additions in bold, strikethru hopefully self-explanatory.]

(A) a statement of specific and articulable facts showing that there are reasonable grounds to believe that the tangible things sought are relevant and material to an authorized investigation (other than a threat assessment) conducted in accordance with subsection (a)(2) to obtain foreign intelligence information not concerning a United States person or to protect against international terrorism or clandestine intelligence activities, such things being presumptively relevant to an authorized investigation if the applicant shows in the statement of the facts that they pertain to clandestine intelligence activities and pertain only to an individual that is the subject of such investigation; and

(i) a foreign power or an agent of a foreign power;

(ii) the activities of a suspected agent of a foreign power who is the subject of such authorized investigation; or

(iii) an individual in contact with, or known to, a suspected agent of a foreign power who is the subject of such authorized investigation; and

(B) an enumeration of the minimization procedures adopted by the Attorney General under subsection (g) that are applicable to the retention and dissemination by the Federal Bureau of Investigation of any tangible things to be made available to the Federal Bureau of Investigation based on the order requested in such application.

What the amendment would do is (hopefully) more narrowly define “relevant.” As it stands now, the FISA Act allows for the collection of tangible things presumptively relevant, which as we’ve seen, tends to allow for a lot of ancillary data harvesting. Fitzpatrick removes that wording and replaces it with even more specifics — “pertain only to an individual that is the subject of such investigation.” In addition, he slices out subsections (i) through (iii), which further narrows down the acceptable data the NSA can pursue.

Whether or not these wording changes will prevent extra “hops” or more massive data hauls remains to be seen. But Fitzpatrick is waving a bit of stick in the form of budget cuts should the agency reach surpass its authority.

[T]he legislation holds that any violation of Section 501 would be met with a decision to withhold all unobligated funds to carry out that section of law until the end of the fiscal year.

This may also encourage more targeted data collections, if for no other reason than so much of the NSA’s work is outsourced to private contractors. Government officials may be able to protect their own paychecks in case of self-inflicted budget cuts, but they’re going to have a hard time finding companies to work with them if internal malfeasance starts threatening their paychecks.

It’s tough to say whether these legislative attempts have a chance in hell at passing, but the odds have vastly improved over the past few weeks. There’s a ton of internal Congressional wrangling still ahead before these bills go up for a vote, but at this point, it’s highly doubtful the NSA and the administration protecting it will be able to sufficiently polish their reputations before these bills hit the floor. And no matter what happens, it’s refreshing to see the NSA being targeted by irate representatives and citizens, rather than the other way around.

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Comments on “Rep. Mike Fitzpatrick Introduces Bill To Smack The NSA In The Wallet For Each Data Collection Violation”

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Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Techdirt Mods... Please answer

Not a mod, but my posts almost always get into the spam filter and are held for moderation, if I wait a day I got a 50/50 chance of appearing else I know that someone miss it and just hit the delete button or didn’t look or thought it really was spam.

From experience in other forums I know it is difficult to look at those, there are hundreds of spam bots trying hard to get past the filters and the messages pile up like crazy.

But I digress, no you are not the only one, I get the “held for moderation” often specially since I use a proxy, but I don’t jump on the “why I am being censored” because mostly it seems random what they let pass or not so I believe is more likely that people look at the hundreds of spam messages and miss some of the real posts, it happens.

I also believe that most people not registered are more likely to get caught on the spam filter.

On a different note, thank you guys for letting anonymous people post is wonderful.

out_of_the_blue says:

Oh, boy. At best, lame non-starter. -- Enforce existing laws and jail the criminals!

IF Congress actually wanted to do anything, has its own jail, so just summon* the executives and arrest them: problem solved in a matter of hours, without the endless hearings and hedging this would entail. But the whole system and everyone in it is corrupt.

[* They wouldn’t bother to show up. Congress now definitely has no actual power, let alone moral strength, this is all just theater.]

Techdirt’s motto: The confusion has become so complete that it’s beyond correction.

Wally (profile) says:


Is it me, or does the idea of slashing the NSA’s budget seem a bit of a ref herring of an offering. I do agree to the rewording of the rules and clauses, but I can’t agree to budget cuts that. 90% of the SysAdmin staff were cut to save money in the already deplorable economy so why on Earth do we have to cut something that can’t afford the cut??

Wally (profile) says:

Re: Re: Danger.

The biggest sign that they are already strapped for cash is that they cut 90% of its SysAdmin IT staff….in favor of automation…which isn’t being supported as much as it should be for the security of the database that holds our metadata which they illegally collected.

Do not punish the organization with a budget cut when you can simply fire the current heads of staff by voting for their rookie opponents.

That One Guy (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re: Danger.

Yeah, about that… if I believed for a second they were getting rid of those people for ‘budget’ concerns, rather than say, getting rid of potential leaks now that their dirty laundry is being aired and more people might be tempted to follow Snowden’s lead, that might be a point.

As-is I’m betting the mass firings have nothing to do with budget worries, and everything to do with damage control.

Wally (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:2 Danger.

Could be both….keep in mind though that Snowden gave up his $175,000 a year job to blow the whistle on the NSA. He was a SysAdmin as well. The NSA seems to have cut the jobs of at least 1,000 personnel in the IT department who were Snowden’s peers in terms of salaries.

So I’m thinking it was both.

Thing about damage control is that in case there is a breach in security from an exterior source, there are far less people now to contain or isolate the problem. That’s just the result of poor economy

Beech says:

Myriad Problems

While any legislation looking to stick it to the NSA has it’s heart in the right place, this is the same kind of sloppy “OMGZ We have to do something!!!1!!!” legislation that gets regularly derided here. Here’s the problems I see right off the cuff.

1) Reactive instead of proactive. We have to wait until the NSA gets caught violating our privacy before this takes effect, as opposed to adding like, actual oversight to STOP them from spying on us in the first place.
2) Nothing is being done about the NSA being able to classify it’s every action, so how are we to know if they violate privacy again? Trust another whistleblower will show up?
3)There’s still a secret court that only hears one side of the story, and is held accountable to no one ever. This does nothing to stop the rubberstamping of warrants
4)No matter how you change the wording of who the NSA can spy on, I guarantee it will be warped over time until they are right back to “legally” spying on everyone again. Also, this doesn’t address the NSA’s arguments of “We’re 51% sure they’re foreign, so we can spy on them” or “We’re only hoarding all this data, not “collecting” or “harvesting” until such time as we feel like it.”
5)No one who has violated my privacy to date is being held personally accountable under this law.
6)Amnesty isn’t being given to Snowden in this bill.

Pragmatic says:

Re: Myriad Problems

Agreed. They’ll just push for more money in the next round of appropriations because ZOMG Terrorists!!!!111eleventyone!

In which case we’re back to where we started. This is legislative theater. What we actually need is to lock people up or at least fire and punish them for breaking the law and violating our Constitutional rights.

Andrew says:

NSA Jurisdiction

“The bill also makes it clear that the NSA can only track Americans where strong evidence suggests they are doing wrong.”

This should even be in the bill. IIRC the NSA only has jurisdiction to perform surveillance outside the US. Besides foreign SIGINT, it’s domestic roles are purely defensive not offensive. It is responsible to securing out nation’s infrastructure either directly by providing aid or by improving cryptographic and other technologies that protect our signals.

Lurker Keith says:

What to do w/ all the money?

I suggest all the money saved by defunding illegal/ Unconstitutional (differentiated because they would find a loophole otherwise) activities committed by the NSA should be applied to the National Debt. That should make a significant dent.

That or education &/ or necessary infrastructure improvements (roads, utilities, internet, etc.).

Anonymous Coward says:

clipping the wings of the NSA is a start but i reckon all that will happen is another agency will take over, carrying on where the NSA is forced to stop. ALL these agencies need to have the same rules imposed on them and then the other countries involved need to be fully exposed as to what they have been/are doing and they need to be stopped as well. the way it looks in the EU atm is that they are none too happy with these goings on and are ready to call a halt on any spying as well

GEMont (profile) says:

Hmmmm…. let’s see if I got this right….

Make the NSA pay a fine (drawn from taxpayer’s pockets) whenever they get caught misusing taxpayer’s money by breaking the “rules of engagement” laid out by law in their surveillance of the general public, known in-house as the “adversary”.

Perhaps I’m missing the point, but how does this cause the NSA to stop violating their mandate and breaking the law by avoiding – or “misreading” the “rules of engagement” VS the adversary??

If I had to pay a fine to you every time I hit you, but I could drew the money for the fine out of your pocket, it would definitely not deter my attacks much.

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