Does Congress Believe In Protecting Your Privacy? Key Amendment Next Week Is The Test

from the let's-find-out dept

Last month, we wrote about how the USA Freedom Act was completely changed at the last minute in secret. This was even after the bill had been marked up and approved unanimously by two committees (Judiciary and Intelligence). Then the White House (read: NSA) came in and basically changed the bill around entirely, such that some say it’s even worse than before. Earlier this week, it even came out that the very author of the USA Freedom Act, Rep. Jim Sensenbrenner, was frozen out of the final negotiations on his own bill, such that the final product looked nothing like the original. While some in Congress tried to warn their colleagues that the bill they were voting on had been changed in secret, many Representatives didn’t fully comprehend what happened, and the bill passed.

While the official fight over the bill has now moved to the Senate (and early indications there are not good at all), Representatives in the House have another big chance next week with the giant Defense Appropriations bill. From what we’ve been hearing, a bipartisan group of Representatives will be introducing an amendment to put in two key measures that will block the NSA from two major abuses involving two different kinds of “backdoors.” If Congress is actually serious about protecting the privacy of Americans and making sure the NSA cannot do domestic surveillance, this is the opportunity to prove it.

The first part of the amendment would put back in a bit of the USA Freedom Act that got stripped out at the last minute, stopping what has been referred to as “backdoor searches” of American’s data that was collected under Section 702 of the FISA Amendments Act. This is content, not metadata, and the NSA has very wide leverage to search through it once it’s been collected. While the NSA is not supposed to search on American’s content, a sneaky “rule change” in 2011 gave the NSA the authority to run searches on Americans’ content collected via this program, and it includes a lot of content. This is a very big deal. The NSA and its defenders have been using sneaky language to pretend they don’t do searches on US persons’ content, but that was proved untrue thanks to these backdoor searches. The expected amendment would say that the NSA can’t do those searches without a warrant.

In short: here’s a chance for Representatives in the House to tell their constituents that they support their privacy and have reminded the NSA how the 4th Amendment works. Will they take that opportunity, or will they continue to allow the NSA to spy on American’s emails, files, documents, pictures, etc?

The second part of the amendment is expected to also block a different kind of backdoor: blocking the US government from mandating that any technology include backdoors for law enforcement (beyond what’s currently required under the wiretapping CALEA statute). In other words, no more having the NSA go around and tell RSA to use compromised encryption. And no way for DOJ/NSA to force internet service providers to install backdoors into their technology. This is important for a variety of reasons, but most importantly, because any such backdoor will eventually (sometimes quickly) be discovered and exploited by those with malicious intent. In other words, this is another chance for Congress to show that they protect the privacy of Americans, by blocking one of the biggest threats to our cybersecurity: the NSA purposely weakening our technology and services.

This amendment won’t fix all of the problems with the NSA (or even most of the problems with the NSA), but it will correct two very big problems, and it’s a chance for the House to push back on the secret deal that was negotiated by the NSA at the last minute, which radically change the USA Freedom Act from a bill that reined in the NSA, to one that actually may have opened up more bad practices. If Congress really wants to show they believe in protecting the public, here’s a chance. We’ll have more details as this process moves forward, including looking at who is willing to step up and protect your privacy, and who’s trying to weaken your privacy.

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Comments on “Does Congress Believe In Protecting Your Privacy? Key Amendment Next Week Is The Test”

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Anonymous Coward says:

I think this amendment has a good chance of passing. Members of Congress don’t want the Executive Branch spying on the contents of their digital communications without a warrant. Think of all the dirt they’d be able to collect on them!

US corporations don’t want the NSA performing “interdiction” on their shipments to international customers. It hurts their bottom line, so they’ll lobby members of Congress to support the amendment. Which puts money in Congress’s pockets, so they’ll happily vote for it.

This amendment is basically a shoe-in, but for all the self serving and corrupt reasons. If this amendment passes, which it will, it’ll have nothing to do with the rights of the American public.

Michael (profile) says:

Re: Re:

Members of Congress don’t want the Executive Branch spying on the contents of their digital communications without a warrant. Think of all the dirt they’d be able to collect on them!
I’m quite certain that the NSA already has all of the dirt they need on anyone in Congress that has dirt available.

US corporations don’t want the NSA performing “interdiction” on their shipments to international customers.
US Corporations don’t give a rats a** if the NSA does this – as long as they don’t get caught and wreck their customer relationships or impact their sales.

This amendment is basically a shoe-in
ANYTHING that threatens to take power away from the Executive branch of government is a challenge to pass.

Anonymous Coward says:

Origins of meaningful change

While I do believe that solutions (that are implemented elsewhere) will ultimately be reflected in governmental legislation, I tend towards agreeing with Greenwald’s observations as to where meaningful change will come from…

“One should not expect any change to come from the U.S. government itself (which includes Congress), whose strategy in such cases is to enact the pretext of ?reform? so as to placate public anger, protect the system from any serious weakening, and allow President Obama to go before the country and the world and give a pretty speech about how the U.S. heard their anger and re-calibrated the balance between privacy and security. Any new law that comes from the radically corrupted political class in DC will either be largely empty, or worse. The purpose will be to shield the NSA from real reform.

There are, though, numerous other avenues with the real potential to engender serious limits on the NSA?s surveillance powers, including the self-interested though genuine panic of the U.S. tech industry over how surveillance will impede their future business prospects, the efforts of other countries to undermine U.S. hegemony over the internet, the newfound emphasis on privacy protections from internet companies worldwide, and, most of all, the increasing use of encryption technology by users around the world that poses genuine obstacles to state surveillance. Those are all far, far more promising avenues than any bill Barack Obama, Dianne Feinstein and Saxby Chambliss will let Congress cough up.”

Anonymous Coward says:

of course it does, just not as much as it believes in allowing the USA turn into a Police State, led by the NSA that it believes should be able to do whatever it wants! then add in that all police forces should be able to lie like pigs in shite when any arrest is attempted, regardless of whether force and firearms are needed and used and any witnesses can be eliminated and we’ve got good laws!

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