Amendment Blocking Backdoor Searches, Backdooring Encryption To Be Added To Defense Funding Bill

from the well-here-we-go dept

In the last few weeks, we’ve pointed out that the House of Representatives have been attaching a bunch of interesting amendments to appropriations bills to block surveillance. Last week, for example, there was overwhelming support for an amendment to an appropriations bill that would block funding from NIST (National Institute of Science and Technology) for helping the NSA or CIA undermine encryption. Other amendments blocked funds being used by the DOJ/FBI to force companies to put backdoors into encryption. Other amendments stripped out funding for warrantless use of stingrays.

Now, with the focus on defense appropriations, it appears that Reps. Zoe Lofgren and Thomas Massie are pushing a repeat amendment of last year’s bill to block funding for two different kinds of “backdoors” used in surveillance. You can see the amendment here.

There are two key parts to this. The first would block Defense funds from being used for so-called backdoor searches of information collected via the infamous Section 702 “upstream” collection program. We knew that the NSA felt that it was fine to sniff through these so-called “incidental” collections of information, but as we learn more and more about how they do so, the more worried we should be. These backdoor searches are a way for the NSA to spy on many people without ever needing to get a warrant — and this amendment would block that in cases where the government is searching for information on a US person through that database of info:

Except as provided in subparagraph (b), none of the funds authorized to be appropriated by this Act may be used by an officer or employee of the United States to conduct a search of a collection of communications acquired under section 702 of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act of 1978 (50 U.S.C. 1881a) in an effort to find communications of a particular United States person (other than a corporation).

The second part of the amendment would block funding for having the federal government demand products have backdoors in them:

Except as provided in subsection (b), none of the funds authorized to be appropriated by this Act may be used by an officer or employee of the United States to mandate or request that a manufacturer, developer, or seller of covered products design or alter the security functions in its product or service to allow the surveillance of any user of such product or service, or to allow the physical search of such product, by any agency.

There is some overlap with some of those earlier amendments we talked about from last week, but from different funding bills, so these are an important way to make sure funding for such programs doesn’t continue via other channels. Last year, this was the amendment that passed overwhelmingly, surprising many in the intelligence community. And there are some indications that it has even more support this year, as more and more Representatives area aware of intelligence community abuse of surveillance powers. Unfortunately, last year, this amendment was later stripped out, but if support for it continues to grow it’ll be impossible to block it forever.

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Comments on “Amendment Blocking Backdoor Searches, Backdooring Encryption To Be Added To Defense Funding Bill”

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Jason says:

subsection (b)

(b) EXCEPTION.—Subparagraph (a) shall not apply to a search for communications related to a particular
15 United States person if—

(1) such United States person is the subject of an order or emergency authorization authorizing electronic surveillance or physical search under section 105, 304, 703, 704, or 705, or title 18, United States Code, for the effective period of that order;

(2) the entity carrying out the search has a reasonable belief that the life or safety of such United States person is threatened and the information is sought for the purpose of assisting that person; or

(3) such United States person has consented to the search.


(b) EXCEPTION.—Subsection (a) shall not apply to mandates authorized under the Communications Assistance for Law Enforcement Act (47 U.S.C. 1001 et seq.).

Surely those exceptions are narrowly tailored and will be used accordingly. /sarc?

Gary Mont (profile) says:

Re: Re:

… international rules prohibiting …

On a planet where more than half the governments are fascist, getting anything that prevents “business as usual” on an unanimous basis is absolutely impossible – and is, in fact, absolutely laughable.

Since the federal government and its agencies work for the International Billionaire Club, business as usual includes the perpetual, 24/7 surveillance of all who might threaten “business as usual”.

This legislation will be less effective than a fly swatter in a swamp.

Gary Mont (profile) says:

That'll teach 'em to mess with JQ Public... NOT

…none of the funds authorized to be appropriated by this Act may be used…

Oh dear. I can hear the internal dialogue now….

“Damn them peacenik bastards. Looks like we’re gonna hafta ratchet up the blackmail division to offset the snoop and scoop programs, if’n the lawyer pool can’t find a good workaround among the “exception” clauses, Steve.”

“Not to worry Sam. Those exceptions are big enough to drive Jeb Bush’s Ego through, with clearance on either side of a few hundred feet. We’ll just rename the built-in security breach processes to something legally appropriate and carry on without missing a step. As usual.”

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