House Judiciary Committee Introduces Weak Surveillance Reform Bill

from the offering-very-little,-almost-too-late dept

Better late than never, there finally appears to be some Section 702 reform efforts underway in Washington DC. Tech companies have been oddly silent over the last several months, allowing the government to fill the void with demands for a clean, forever reauthorization.

The reform bill [PDF], titled the USA Liberty Act, allows for the renewal of Section 702 authorities, but with some minor alterations. First off, the bill codifies the NSA's voluntary shutdown of its "about" email collection. If passed intact, the bill would prevent the NSA from collecting "about" communications until 2023. It also adds some warrant requirements for searches of 702 content by law enforcement agencies, including the FBI.

The warrant requirement doesn't change anything for collection access for "foreign intelligence" reasons, but at least elevates law enforcement access requirements, bringing it in line with the more-stringent demands of wiretap applications. This will hopefully prevent the government from browsing harvested communications for evidence of minor criminal activity.

Agencies like the FBI will still have warrantless access to 702 metadata but, importantly, won't be able to use this metadata as the sole source of probable cause when requesting a warrant. Unfortunately, this access will have little to no oversight as the FBI won't be required to run its metadata search plans past a court first.

These make Section 702 access a bit more restricted but, as the ACLU points out, it doesn't completely close the government's backdoor search loophole.

The bill would still allow the CIA, NSA, FBI, and other agencies to search through emails, text messages, and phone calls for information about people in the U.S. without a probable cause warrant from a judge. Those worried that current or future presidents will use Section 702 to spy on political opponents, surveil individuals based on false claims that their religion makes them a national security threat, or chill freedom of speech should be concerned that these reforms do not go far enough.

There are a few more positive to the bill as written. It requires semi-annual reporting on incidentally-collected communications -- information the ODNI still hasn't turned over to oversight committees despite years of requests.

It also extends whistleblower protections to government contractors, something that has been pointed out repeatedly but ignored by legislators when crafting whistleblower bills.

On the downside, it increases the penalty for the unauthorized removal of sensitive documents to five years in prison (up from one year) and adds an additional charge for prosecutors to toss at whistleblowers and leakers: negligent removal of classified documents.

It's certainly better than the nothing legislators have been offering for months, but it needs more work before it can be considered anything more than a minor facelift. A warrant requirement is nice, but essentially meaningless when the FBI and other agencies can still access what they're looking for without having to speak to a judge.


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  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 5 Oct 2017 @ 1:44pm

    Politicians in power loathe to reduce their power of invading everyone else's privacy. More interesting news at 11.

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

  • identicon
    A Passing Stranger, 5 Oct 2017 @ 2:39pm

    Here, you can have your privacy back, we don't need it any more. For now. Until we decide otherwise. Come to think of it, why don't you just let us hang on to it for now?

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

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 5 Oct 2017 @ 4:34pm

    "Weak Surveillance Reform Bill"

    means Reforming Weak Surveillance until
    it's stronger.

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

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 5 Oct 2017 @ 7:50pm

    News Conference Video

    Via C-SPAN, “House Judiciary Committee Reaches Agreement on FISA Renewal”, Oct 5, 2017

    FISA Renewal Members of the House Judiciary Committee, including Chairman Bob Goodlatte (R-VA), held a news conference on a bill to reauthorize--with some changes--Section 702 of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA). . . .

    Besides remarks from Chairman Goodlatte, this 17 minute video also includes remarks by the ranking member of the committee, John Conyers (MI-13), as well as by other senior members of the committee.

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

  • identicon
    Blah Blah Blah, 5 Oct 2017 @ 9:55pm

    Cal It What It Is

    I wish we'd get some real names for these bills like,
    "We're gonna do whatever the fuck we want" bill or,
    "Every american has to have a tracking device the size of a grapefruit installed in their rectum" Act.

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

  • identicon
    Personanongrata, 6 Oct 2017 @ 2:45pm

    Those who would give up essential Liberty, to purchase a little temporary Safety, deserve neither Liberty nor Safety*

    It's certainly better than the nothing legislators have been offering for months, but it needs more work before it can be considered anything more than a minor facelift. A warrant requirement is nice, but essentially meaningless when the FBI and other agencies can still access what they're looking for without having to speak to a judge.

    The USA Liberty Act is a complete joke.

    The joke is unfortunately on the American people once again.

    Whenever congress foists such a patriotically titled bill upon the nation you may rest assured the bill in some arcane/opaque/Byzantine manner will further empower(unconstitutionally) the US government to steal our Liberty under the guise of providing security.

    Benjamin Franklin*

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


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