House Overwhelmingly Votes To Slam The Backdoor Shut On The NSA!

from the big-win dept

A week ago, we told you that there were plans for a very important amendment to slam the backdoor shut on the NSA’s use of backdoor searches, as well as mandates for backdoors in technology. On Wednesday, we asked you to call your Representatives to support the Amendment. The story got almost no other press. And yet, last night, the amendment passed by an overwhelming majority, 293 to 123. And it was also an overwhelmingly bipartisan vote: Republicans voted for it 135 to 94, and Democrats voted for it 158 to 29. Go take a look at the vote results in the link above — and if your Representative voted Aye, please go thank them for standing up to protect your privacy and 4th Amendment rights from the NSA. You can use the Sunlight Foundation’s new Congressional email system. Separately, a huge shoutout goes to Reps. Zoe Lofgren, Thomas Massie and James Sensenbrenner for putting together this amendment in the first place. As we noted earlier this week, Sensenbrenner’s support on the bill is perhaps the most striking, as it’s a clear rebuke to House leadership for watering down his own USA Freedom Act.

As we stated, this amendment only fixes two specific problems. It stops the very questionable use of “backdoor searches” of information collected under the Section 702 program. This is the very questionable setup by which the NSA spies on Americans while insisting that they don’t actually spy on Americans. It also blocks the NSA from mandating that any technology companies create backdoors in their software or hardware to enable wiretapping (such as the NSA forcing Skype to no longer be encrypted end-to-end).

In many ways, this is more important as a symbolic gesture than for the specifics — but it should have a much wider impact as well. This is the first time that Congress has overwhelmingly voted to defund an NSA program. Last year’s Amash Amendment came very, very close to defunding a different program (the Section 215 bulk records collection program), but by passing by an overwhelming margin, this vote is a pretty big sign that the House (on both sides of the aisle) is not happy with how the NSA has been spying on Americans. As mentioned above, it’s also a big slap in the face to the White House and certain members of the House leadership who conspired to water down the USA Freedom Act a few weeks ago, stripping it of a very similar provision to block backdoor searches.

While this particular Amendment is far from a sure thing (it still needs to make it through a Senate equivalent and then the White House), it is quite important as a sign that the House really is fed up with the NSA’s surveillance and how the USA Freedom Act process went. It should serve as a warning to the Senate, which is now considering its own version of the USA Freedom Act, that passing a similarly watered down version is simply not acceptable.

This is one step forward in a big process, but it is a big milestone. For the first time since the Snowden revelations began, the House overwhelmingly voted to defund some NSA practices. Once again, if you’re an American, I urge you to look over the list of Aye votes, and send a thank you to those Representatives who took a stand for your privacy and against the NSA last night.

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Comments on “House Overwhelmingly Votes To Slam The Backdoor Shut On The NSA!”

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Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re:

Some of them cannot lose their jobs. So telling people to vote against them is naive.

Eg: Scott Miller, someone who has consistently been brown-nosing various federal government programs if they scratch behind his ear and tickle his belly the right way, has consistently won his seat over and over again simply because the only working opposition has been (intentionally?) sabotaging themselves for every race for the past decade, applying for the ballot and then not campaigning at all or flipping around politicians so they’re disqualified for the ballot.

All around the country this kind of behavior can be spotted, and it’s why the worst of our politicians continue to sit in office content that they’ll never have to answer to their constituents. This is especially prevalent at the local level where money is still fairly large and oversight is barren or on a completely honorary system.

David says:

Re: !!!!!!

The Amendment will be gutted in Senate and ignored by the NSA. The secret FISA court will take note, to the degree that anybody actually bothers informing FISA, that even the pared-down provisions of the bill keep getting ignored. The respective reports will be classified and the few representatives even allowed to see them will not be permitted to talk about them.

About five more whistleblowers will have to do very thorough work of the Snowden calibre and get incarcerated, killed, or exiled in a publicly visible way for it before either the political caste or the citizenship will be bothered enough to actually do something that stings enough to actually cause a change of direction.

Where is one supposed to find heroes in the U.S.A. actually putting freedom before convenience?

The most important thing the U.S.A. has to do to prevent another 9/11 from happening is to cease, as a nation, deserving it.

The Founding Fathers were willing to give their life for freedom.

The current citizens of the U.S.A. are willing to give their freedom for vague promises and open lies about possibly avoiding some fatalities.

A nation of cowards and marionettes with the strings pulled by the industrial military complex.

Eisenhower already warned about this happening.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: My Rep voted NO

My district isn’t much better.

The area near St. Louis, where I grew up, has determined who represents about 1/4 of the rural areas in southern Illinois for my entire lifetime.

The lines are supposed to be redrawn before elections this year. We’ll see how that goes.

Anonymous Coward says:


I hate to rain on this wonderful parade.
This placation might as well have been written by the pope.

1. Only applies to THIS appropriations bill…
2. Only applies to the NSA, CIA…
3. NOTHING in this actually prohibits the activities…
4. Wording on 702 specifies “using a United States person as an identifier.” -says nothing about aliases, email, IP, etc…
5. Still has to pass in the senate. (which it probably won’t- even though it’s little more then word play and meaningless placation.)

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: ...sigh...

Weak sauce is an understatement. It deserves no more than a passing mention until it passes the senate, and Mike knows this – especially at time when key members are up for re-election (ya know, when they go out of their way to project the illusion that they’re doing something positive on behalf of their constituents without actually doing anything ultimately).

John Fenderson (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re: ...sigh...

I disagree. While it’s true that the house vote doesn’t fix anything, it’s also true that public response to the vote is critically important to whether or not congress will seriously address the problems.

If the vote goes by without public cheering, it reduces the odds that any future efforts will be made. Politicians will just point at the house vote and say “see? nobody cares.”

Responding to things like this with “who cares, it doesn’t solve the problem” is precisely the sort of thing that ensures that the problem won’t ever get fixed. It’s a defeatist stance, and even worse, that sort of attitude means that we’ve defeated ourselves before the battle has really even begun.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:2 ...sigh...

As you well know, the P.T.B. do what they want regardless of congress. Although that should not be the case, it is, and as such, the job of congress is to project the illusion that they are still in control of the matter. Cheering or jeering is not going to make a difference one way or the other, the P.T.B. will still do as it pleases.

Zonker says:

Re: Re: Re: ...sigh...

“Weak sauce” such as this is precisely how we got out of control copyright, patent, surveillance, enforcement law expansion in the first place. Chip away at our rights/public domain one small piece at a time while convincing everyone it’s so minor it won’t really change anything until it has fundamentally changed everything.

It worked for them, it should work for us if we stop thinking it won’t change anything while convincing the opposition otherwise.

Anonymous Coward says:

I have to wonder how many lobbyists have told these congress critters that the NSA activities are lowering their corporate sponsors bottom line and unless something is done about it there will be a whole lot less money flowing into campaign war chests for election season. This could well be the attempt at placating that without too much restriction on the continued spying.

Anonymous Coward says:


No Mr Fenderson, I sincerely don’t enjoy it.

I look forward to a day when we have something real to celebrate, a day when my cynicism turns out to be unjustified and foolish, but I’m not holding my breath. I’m certainly not going to start celebrating a non-event that seams to be political posturing. Talk is cheap, and it gets votes- even if this passes the senate, for the reasons I’ve stated, it’s still nothing but meaningless pleasant sounding talk.

I’ve read ~5 articles on this today, and none of them really put the amendment in accurate context; Several where outright misleading- especially to the average reader who just skims. As usual, TD has one of the better pieces- but still it has the absurd title (which seams to be the common buzz phrase for all the articles.) and uses the terms ‘fixes’ and ‘stops’, before admiting it’s ‘mostly symbolic gesture’.

Even if it passes- it doesn’t fix or stop anything; much less ‘slam the backdoor on the NSA’; it’s more akin to someone suggesting we should rearrange the deck chairs on the titanic. Show me a real course change- or convince me that we’re really no where near any icebergs- then I’ll celebrate.

Zonker says:

Re: Re:Re:...Sigh...

Not only are you wrong, but you are actively promoting the problem. The way we got to the government getting away with these rights violations in the first place was one small step at a time. That is, you change law without anyone noticing until it’s too late. Convince the people that each change you make is so small it won’t matter.

Our rights are guaranteed under the Constitution… except during times of War… and when we invade other countries we have declared War… except terrorism and drugs change everything, so we must declare a War on Terror/Drugs until neither exist in the world anymore (never).

Ideas are unpatentable subject matter… except when implemented on a specialized machine… but a general purpose machine becomes a specialized machine when executing your idea… and common knowledge becomes patentable if impemented on a network of general purpose machines (the Internet).

In order to promote the arts, copyright grants specific exclusive rights to the author for a limited time… except authors can transfer rights to holders… but we need to extend the limited time… retroactively… and we need to include music recordings… but need to extend the time again… and allow holders to use technical measures to block fair use on digital forms… and make it illegal to circumvent such measures… and allow holders to take down works they claim may be infringing without due process… and the entire world needs to adopt all these changes and more before we will allow them to trade “freely”.

All the biggest changes to our rights and laws have been one small step at a time so as to trick you into thinking each change won’t make any difference. Why shouldn’t we be doing the same to change them back?

Anonymous Coward says:


I’m not dismissing it, I’m calling it out for what it is.

An AC above made a great analogy on the house (rider) and constituency (horse)- “when the horse turns, the smart rider pretends it was his idea.”

That is true (for trainers/training at least), and I’ll add to that- that the best way to train any animal, is to convince them that what you want, is what they want, and vice-versa.

For instance, to get a horse over a creek, you go back and forth, you turn around and come back to it, you approach from different angles, you find a narrower crossing point or a bridge – patience and empathy- the creek must be the problem impeding progress, not the rider who wants the horse to cross. If the rider becomes the problem in the horse’s mind, there needs to be a new rider to progress any further.

The point I’m getting at- is that focusing on direction and progress, without a clear picture of the overall context is no better then being the horse that outsmarts the rider by crossing the creek (or lesser obstacle offered).

This amendment is about addressing peoples concerns over surveillance, not about actually doing anything to solve the legitimate problems of the surveillance- to the contrary, once peoples concerns are quashed, they don’t have to do anything to address the problem. In their minds, it’s the concern that IS the problem- not the surveillance- IF surveillance was their real concern the amendment would have actually had some real tangible effect on it- it doesn’t- it only affects peoples perception of the problem. (partly thanks to catchy click-bait headlines explaining how the house has just ‘slammed the backdoor on the NSA’)

Celebrating this as legitimate progress because of positive direction, is the same as celebrating your own ideals defeat. There is no positive direction if you break it down and examine it- quite the opposite.

Anonymous Coward says:


“All the biggest changes to our rights and laws have been one small step at a time so as to trick you into thinking each change won’t make any difference. Why shouldn’t we be doing the same to change them back?”

It’s not the same at all.
In your examples, the gov is minimising the perceptional aspect, while maximising the tangible effect. Here it’s the exact opposite- minimum tangible, maximum perceptional.

this isn’t something we have made the government do- it’s something they want us to believe they’re doing on our behalf that really serves their own interest.

In the case of this amendment the changes are purely perceptional- they give the impression that the problem has been solved when it in fact has not, even if it passes. Since people think it’s been solved though- there won’t be as much pressure on them.

All 5 articles I read today would have left a skimming reader with the impression that this was a done deal that solved the problems. As I’ll explain again, that’s not true at all- if you didn’t get my bad joke in first post- it might as well have been written by the pope, because it’s ‘holey’; as in full of loopholes which I listed.
I’ll elaborate:

1. Only applies to THIS appropriations bill…
ie: This does NOT cut ALL funding for those activities, just the funding from this one bill. so that’s ineffectual.

2. Only applies to the NSA, CIA…
There are more agencies that do this stuff, the FBI does allot if not most of it as is. Because this seams so out of sync with the practical reality of the issue, it’s hard to imagine it has any other purpose then misleading the reader. again- it’s meaningless, they’ll have the FBI do it, (automated, natch) and pass on the results- if they even give a damn what the law is.

3. NOTHING in this actually prohibits the activities it purports to address…
Not sure what to add to this- it’s just that simple; The bill doesn’t disallow or even disincentive this behaviour. (see #1 there is EFFECTIVELY NO DE-FUNDING- just changing the book keeping)

4. Wording on 702 specifies “using a United States person as an identifier.” -says nothing about aliases, email, IP, etc… By failing to be more specific, they allow searches on everything except a known citizens name.

5. Still has to pass in the senate.
This isn’t a done deal at all- until it’s passed in senate it’s not applicable to anyone.

one more for good measure:
6. It’s widely rumoured that FISA pretty much rubber stamps overly broad warrants- so how much of a factor the whole warrent-less aspect actually is in the first place is entirely up for debate.

There’s allot of context to my life/experience/ideas that I’m simply not willing to give out online, even posting AC behind a VPN. I have allot more faith in this country and even our gov then my posts might lead people to believe. Trust that I’m not a defeatist though, I understand the points made about defeatism- my counter is that it misses the bigger picture, and that such notions are often used as tools/footing to control the narrative reality. Politics are rarely honest face-value paradigms.

I DO consider myself a realist- and the reality I see is that from a concerned citizens viewpoint this is a completely ineffectual and counterproductive amendment. It’s not a step in the right direction, because it takes the motivation away from the actual cause- and transfers it to this, bait and switch. (Now take your fish and go away) From a politicians view point, it’s probably exactly what they want- something to make people happy and take the heat off, while affectively not changing much if anything.

I welcome anyone to counter my reasoning on any of this- I’d love to be proven wrong; or even just have some more healthy doubt.

John Fenderson (profile) says:

Re: rererere...sigh..

I think that history shows that this sort of defeatist thinking is incorrect. Check out all the times that government has gotten out of control in the past and we’ve reigned it back in. Every time, it looked like a hopeless task and yet every time, it has been successful.

What it hasn’t been is quick. Fixing these problems have always been a matter of a large number of small steps. We should derive encouragement from every step, so that we take the next one.

When I hear people making arguments that we’re all doomed and nothing can be done, what they’re actually saying is that there’s nothing that can substantially fix the problem immediately. And that’s true. But that’s a totally different thing from being unable to fix the problem at all.

If we ignore these lessons from the past, we are condemning ourselves to tyranny.

Anonymous Coward says:


I haven’t argued we’re all doomed. I don’t think that at all. What I’ve argued is that this amendment isn’t what it purports to be, and it’s actual tangible effects are counterproductive to what it purports to address. If this where legitimate progress then it would be defeatism to call it out for not being enough- what I’ve claimed is it’s not progress at all, but more a step backwards that feels right. Celebrating this is like celebrating a bad chess move that takes a pawn that was put there with the intention you take it- The opponent has actually weakened your defence, but you feel it’s a victory having taking the pawn. The opponent has allot of pawns up their sleeve, and we’re all easily distractable.

GEMont (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re: rerererere...sigh...


Patient smiles knowing the doctor gave him a pill, not knowing the pill was simply sugar.

Patient will return home and not pay attention to his malady for a while because he believes the doctor was honestly attempting to cure him and he’s willing to put up with the pain and discomfort while he waits for the pill to work its magic.

Patient’s disorder gets progressively worse, until once again he visits his doctor, who gives him another placebo, repeating the above scenario.

Eventually the patient is so ill the doctor tells him to go to the hospital.

Hospital is happy.
New patient.
More money.

Doctor is happy.
Prescription income.
Lots of other patients coming every day.

Patient dies.
Nobody cares.


John Fenderson (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re: rerererere...sigh...

“it’s moving backwards because some will treat it as a solution when it is just a weak act that accomplished little”

Some people certainly will, but so what? It’s not “moving backwards” unless everyone else just shuts up and lets them get away with the deception. I seriously doubt that’s going to happen.

GEMont (profile) says:

” I seriously doubt that’s going to happen.”

I’d like to know what you think people can do to stop it, and if you’re referring to other officials stopping it rather than the public, what process are you suggesting will work to end such deceptions.

I was under the impression that the very process normally used to prevent such deceptions, was the process currently under discussion that was used to introduce the deception.

John Fenderson (profile) says:

Re: Re:

“I’d like to know what you think people can do to stop it”

I’ve written lengthy comments on this subject in the past — the answer is that there’s a lot of things the people can do. Where we are now isn’t a new place at all, and when we’ve been here before, the people have indeed been been able to stop it.

What there isn’t is a single magic bullet that will fix everything overnight. It takes a sustained, multifaceted resistance to enact change. It takes years, sometimes decades, of work — especially through those periods when it all looks hopeless.

“I was under the impression that the very process normally used to prevent such deceptions”

To the best of my knowledge, there is no process normally used to prevent such deceptions. Or, if there is, it has never worked in the history of politics. This sort of deception has always been common practice.

However, the only times that the deception has ever worked is when people have grown too tired of fighting to continue. We’re a very long way from that right now.

GEMont (profile) says:

Just “keep on keeping on” eh. 🙂

Sadly, I have to agree in principle, as there really is, as you say, no sure-fire method or process that will win the day and end the deception, short of eliminating politics altogether – which is apparently impossible.

I was hoping you had something more, but that was sort of foolish of me I suppose.

While I personally believe that the criminals will fail, more so due to their own greed and belief of omnipotence then due to anything the public might do, I cannot help but try and discern some means of lessening the damage they do by shortening their tenure.

I fear that the only way that the people will win back their nation, is after the crooks in power have stripped it of everything valuable and left for greener pastures, or when they have made life in North America so intolerable for the vast majority of people, that the only recourse is violent rebellion – which I am certain will fail.

C’est la vie eh.

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