House Overwehelmingly Passes Amendments Blocking Funding For Undermining Encryption

from the closing-the-backdoor dept

As we've been saying, the passage of the USA Freedom Act is just a small first step in the long road to real surveillance reform. On Wednesday, the House took another small step, voting overwhelmingly in favor of an amendment to an appropriations bill put forth by Rep. Thomas Massie that blocks funding to the National Institute of Science and Technology (NIST) for working with the NSA or CIA to undermine or backdoor encryption. This appears to be quite similar to part of the similar amendment last year that banned both this kind of NIST coordination, but also the NSA's use of backdoor searches under Section 702. As far as I can tell, this new amendment does not include that latter bit. Either way, this amendment passed 383 to 43.

It appears that another amendment, put forth by Rep. Ted Poe also passed by voice vote and it would block the use of funds from the DOJ/FBI from being used "to mandate or request that a person alter the product or service of the person to permit electronic surveillance of any user or service" except in cases required under existing wiretapping law.

Both of these are very big deals, and the fact that they passed so easily suggests that the House is nowhere near done on pushing for real surveillance reform. Of course, whether or not these actually go anywhere is another story. As you may recall, after passing overwhelmingly last year, under pressure to get a big omnibus bill done at the end of the year, the House leadership agreed to drop those provisions under pressure from the intelligence community.

Also, one other interesting amendment also appears to have passed easily by voice vote, which is an amendment put forth by Jared Polis, and would make it clear that the DEA cannot do bulk collection under its subpoena authority. As was detailed a few weeks ago, for many years, the DEA had been using this authority to collect tons of phone records, and the program only ended once the administration realized that the claims it was using in support of the NSA's bulk collection didn't apply to the DEA's collection, and thus they couldn't really continue it. Polis's amendment means that this particular loophole is closed for good (not that others might still be open...).

Again, all three of these may not survive all the way into law, but it does show that there's still a very strong interest in the House to continue pushing back against surveillance abuse.

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  • identicon
    Lawrence D’Oliveiro, 4 Jun 2015 @ 4:36am

    Makes Just As Little Sense As Banning Research Into Gun Safety Or Climate Change

    As a matter of principle, it’s a stupid idea to ban the research. Whether it has a chance of leading to anything is quite a separate matter. I’m not in favour of saying we shouldn’t be allowed to ask the questions.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      That One Guy (profile), 4 Jun 2015 @ 4:48am

      Re: Makes Just As Little Sense As Banning Research Into Gun Safety Or Climate Change

      As a general principle perhaps, but in this case? The NSA/CIA does not need more(or any really) funding in developing even more ways to crack encryption, as it's abundantly clear that they will use such knowledge for their own gains, and the public will suffer as a result of it.

      They have shown that they absolutely cannot be trusted with such knowledge and/or tools, so I see nothing wrong with blocking funding aimed at giving it too them.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • icon
        Mason Wheeler (profile), 4 Jun 2015 @ 7:25am

        Re: Re: Makes Just As Little Sense As Banning Research Into Gun Safety Or Climate Change

        Cracking encryption is one thing. Trying to find flaws in trusted systems is a perfectly legitimate piece of security research, and if any holes can be found they need to be found and published so we can improve our systems. But (as I understand it at least) that's not what this ban is about.

        It's banning undermining encryption: putting backdoors into encryption products and letting people think they're safe. That's the opposite of legitimate security research, and it holds the same moral status as the Takata airbag scandal.

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 4 Jun 2015 @ 5:21am

      Re: Makes Just As Little Sense As Banning Research Into Gun Safety Or Climate Change

      "...to undermine or backdoor encryption..."

      General research is fine, but this was quite specific. Not a good idea.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      CK20XX (profile), 4 Jun 2015 @ 7:16am

      Re: Makes Just As Little Sense As Banning Research Into Gun Safety Or Climate Change

      It's only a good idea to ban the research when it's quite clear that the researchers don't intend to do any research in the first place.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      Mason Wheeler (profile), 4 Jun 2015 @ 7:16am

      Re: Makes Just As Little Sense As Banning Research Into Gun Safety Or Climate Change

      I disagree. There are some questions that should not be asked, and "how can we efficiently sabotage vital technology that keeps the general public safe and make sure they don't find out?" is absolutely one of them!

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 4 Jun 2015 @ 9:40am

      Re: Makes Just As Little Sense As Banning Research Into Gun Safety Or Climate Change

      They're not banning encryption research; they're banning research into falsifying safety. This would be the equivalent to banning research into figuring out how to make guns unsafe while retaining the appearance of safety, or research into how to falsify climate records (or reports) without anyone noticing.

      If either of those is happening, I'd be happy to have funds pulled from those programs too.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      SteveMB (profile), 4 Jun 2015 @ 1:01pm

      Re: Makes Just As Little Sense As Banning Research Into Gun Safety Or Climate Change

      This isn't about banning any sort of genuine scientific "research". It's about banning use of government resources to commit fraud. It's like (for example) banning government chemistry labs from trying to develop a chemical to mask melamine detection so that crooked businesses can sell poison pet food.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    br3n (profile), 4 Jun 2015 @ 4:58am

    just a little hope

    all i can say it is past time for this to happen!!
    br3n

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    mcinsand, 4 Jun 2015 @ 5:06am

    but what I really want to see (as if there were any chance)...

    These elected officials took an oath of office to uphold the US Constitution, and then they started undermining it. We need to be able to prosecute and jail for such behavior!

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    FactoryDude, 4 Jun 2015 @ 5:15am

    Contradictions and hedging:

    "Both of these are very big deals ... Of course, whether or not these actually go anywhere is another story."

    "this particular loophole is closed for good (not that others might still be open...)."

    Headline BLARES: "Overwehelmingly [sic] Passes" then at end that's YANKED AWAY: "all three of these may not survive all the way into law"

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Factory Dude, 4 Jun 2015 @ 5:19am

    Contradictions and hedging:

    "Both of these are very big deals ... Of course, whether or not these actually go anywhere is another story."

    "this particular loophole is closed for good (not that others might still be open...)."

    Headline BLARES: "Overwehelmingly [sic] Passes" then at end that's YANKED AWAY: "all three of these may not survive all the way into law"

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 4 Jun 2015 @ 5:37am

      Re: Contradictions and hedging:

      It is more an indication of just how badly the US political system is broken, where a few people can subvert the will of the many.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    DannyB (profile), 4 Jun 2015 @ 6:29am

    If this trend continues . . .

    Consider this. If this trend continues, then soon everyone will have encryption that is as strong as the encryption used by the bad guys. That will make everyone a bad guy. Therefore it is better to use genuine Golden Key encryption approved by both Big Brother and our Dear Leader. That way your data will be nice and safe. None of your comrades can read your documents. They can be read only by you, the National Corporation, and anyone possessing a copy of The Golden Key.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]


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