With Congressional Leaders Blocking Serious Reform, Tepid Section 702 Reform Bill Moves Forward

from the death-by-a-thousand-indifferences dept

"Better than nothing" appears to be the motto of the House of Representatives' attempt to implement Section 702 reforms before the end of the year. The USA Liberty Act was introduced in October, bringing with it a few minor alterations to the NSA's collection efforts. Perhaps the best thing about the bill was its codification of the NSA's retirement of its "about" email collection. This would prevent the NSA from restarting a collection responsible for the greatest "incidental" harvesting of domestic communications (that we know of).

It also would expand reporting requirements for agencies making use of Section 702 collections as well as extend whistleblower protections to government contractors. Unfortunately, the bill does not close the loophole allowing "backdoor" searches of domestic communications collected by the program.

Beyond that, Section 702 stays pretty much intact. It's better than leaving it unaltered, but it's far less comprehensive (in terms of reforms) than the option introduced in the Senate by Ron Wyden. Unfortunately, the Senate is far more likely to pass the zero reform effort offered by the NSA's oversight -- one that allows the NSA to restart its "about" collection, as well as expand the number of criminal activities that will justify backdoor searches of NSA data stores. That's the bill that's already advanced, according to David Ruiz of the EFF, who brings more bad tidings along with this news.

The House Judiciary Committee on Wednesday approved the USA Liberty Act, a surveillance reform package introduced last month by House Judiciary Committee Chairman Bob Goodlatte (R-VA) and Ranking Member John Conyers (D-MI). The bill is seen by many as the best option for reauthorizing and reforming Section 702 of the FISA Amendments Act of 2008, which is set to expire in less than two months.

Some committee members described feeling forced to choose between supporting stronger surveillance reforms or advancing the Liberty Act, and voiced their frustration about provisions that only partly block the warrantless search of Americans’ communications when an amendment with broader surveillance reforms was introduced by Reps. Zoe Lofgren (D-CA) and Ted Poe (R-TX). Complicating their deliberations was the fact that the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence has already reported out a bill with far fewer surveillance protections.

The more stringent amendment has been stiff-armed by Congressional leadership, who have made it clear they'll kill the entire reform bill if this amendment remains attached. Still, the Lofgren/Poe amendment has its supporters, but this support is largely composed of representatives on the wrong side of political equation. In a Republican-led house, the support of scattered Democrats is pretty much useless.

House leadership apparently does not want Section 702 to undergo any serious reforms. So, it's let representatives know they can have a watered-down reform bill or nothing at all.

Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee (D-TX)... appeared frustrated with the situation: “I’ll put on record that I resent being held hostage by leadership that does not know the intensity of the work and the responsibilities of the judiciary committee.”

This is how things work in the beltway. Top reps with the power to kill bills are willing to nod briefly at reform, but unwilling to undertake the sort of effort required to rein in the NSA and several domestic agencies with access to 702 collections. The administration has made it clear it's not interested in changing a thing in terms of surveillance, giving Congressional leaders all the reason they need to continue toeing the line.


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  • identicon
    nobody, 13 Nov 2017 @ 4:06am

    The imperial war machine is not subject to civilian rule.

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

  • icon
    MyNameHere (profile), 13 Nov 2017 @ 4:14am

    "In a Republican-led house, the support of scattered Democrats is pretty much useless."

    In a democracy, having a minority of people on your side of something generally leads to nothing. It's the way democracy works.

    If they continue to toss out partisan amendments, things will end up being a party line vote, nothing more and nothing less.

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

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 13 Nov 2017 @ 4:25am

      Re:

      Yah, democracy is 2 wolves and a lamb voting on what to have for dinner.

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

    • icon
      Ninja (profile), 13 Nov 2017 @ 5:43am

      Re:

      I have issues calling a bipartisan system that can't bother to think of the country beyond its partisan bickering a 'democracy'. It would be somewhat better if there were more parties involved making it impossible to work alone. This would make bills and other issues go through true discussions and the end result would probably be something that wouldn't be stellar to one party but rather something good enough for everybody. I'm quite sure that Americans would love to have balanced decisions that took into account some of the Democrats ideas, some of the Republicans and something from a 3rd party. Maybe excluding Republicans but that's a discussion for another time. Next elections are coming ;)

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

      • identicon
        Anonymous Coward, 13 Nov 2017 @ 9:51am

        Re: Re:

        Never has been and, apparently, never will be a democracy.

        Rather than the cult of personality, why not vote on issues?

        All too often, the votes in congress are completely opposite to what the people want ... because polls don't vote.

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

      • icon
        MyNameHere (profile), 13 Nov 2017 @ 12:46pm

        Re: Re:

        It's actually the point where the democratic process meets lazy thinking people, who are swayed by sloganeering and "our team" crap. Us versus them is way easier to explain to people than your local needs expressed by someone who represents you and won't just blindly follow a party flag.

        Americans elect these people, and follow the system, that is as democratic as it gets!

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

  • identicon
    Ali, 13 Nov 2017 @ 4:39am

    Congress

    "Better than nothing" Congress's reforms as good as a nice thing to say in this

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

  • identicon
    Personanongrata, 13 Nov 2017 @ 7:38am

    Oink, Oink, Little Piggies

    The administration has made it clear it's not interested in changing a thing in terms of surveillance, giving Congressional leaders all the reason they need to continue toeing the line.

    Except in circumstances where The administration has come under surveillance then they squeal like stuck pigs.

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

  • identicon
    Bruce C., 13 Nov 2017 @ 3:16pm

    On the other hand, if things in the beltway worked strictly based on majority vote, Sen. Wyden wouldn't have been able to place a public hold on SESTA as it came out of committee.

    Let's count our blessings where we can.

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

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 13 Nov 2017 @ 6:36pm

    I can't help but wonder how many senators have paid off people? I'm not anxious for allegations of any kind, but sometimes I wonder if there are any skeletons gathered by more powerful senators to cow any dissenters to stick solely to weak reforms.

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

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 14 Nov 2017 @ 1:20am

    If a Democratic-ruled government that promised to end domestic spying instead greatly expanded it, is reform possible under a Republican-ruled government that never even bothered to make such (empty) campaign promises?

    Flashback 2007: Senator Obama on 'Warrantless Wiretaps'

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HPymW0q16ss

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

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 14 Nov 2017 @ 11:14am

      Re:

      Exactly. The party leadership, funding arrangements and support network is where the focus should be, not the sock-puppet officials that they install. The lesser of two evils is still evil.

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


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