House Intelligence Committee Lobs Zero-Reform Section 702 Bill Into The Mix At The Last Possible Minute

from the referred-to-as-'STATUS-QUO-Bill-2017' dept

With less than a month remaining (factoring in extended Congressional Christmas vacations) before the expiration of certain NSA collection authorities, the House Intelligence Committee has finally offered up its awful clone of the Senate Intelligence Committee's reform-less renewal bill.

It's basically a mirror image of Senator Burr's bill, right down to the offer to turn back on the "about" email collection the NSA voluntarily shut down because it just couldn't stop collecting US persons' communications. All the NSA has to do is notify Congress it wants the program back and hope the next 30 days go by without someone pushing through a bill codifying the voluntary shutdown.

The only positive of the HIC bill [PDF] is the length of the renewal. At four years, it's far shorter than the Senate offering, which would push the next renewal out to 2025. Other than that, there's really nothing in the bill approaching any idea of reform. There's no warrant requirement for US government agency searches of NSA data stores for US person info and the bill expands the coverage of the NSA's dragnet by redefining targets to include "facilities, places, and premises." With this, the NSA can target entire organizations, service providers, or just use the broad definition to attach its tendrils to Tor traffic.

The FBI's backdoor search loophole also remains unclosed, allowing the government to prosecute Americans and foreigners for criminal activity without having to disclose the source of its evidence. Yes, the DOJ is supposed to notify courts and defendants of the existence of Section 702-derived evidence, but the DOJ has skirted this obligation almost entirely for most of last decade.

This is a truly sad offering by the NSA's supposed oversight. It asks nothing of the agency or the agencies tapping into its collections. It simply kicks the can down the road with the added "bonus" of giving the NSA another swing at a collection program known best for sweeping up domestic communications. And, given the timing, we can expect the Intelligence Committee to staple this turd to a must-pass budget bill at the last minute, giving the public the shaft while claiming to care deeply about the welfare of the country during discussions about impending government shutdowns.

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