NSA Reform Amendments Fail As The USA FREEDOM Act Stumbles

The USA FREEDOM Act, a bill designed to reform the NSA, picked up a number of dismissals recently from privacy and technology groups unhappy with the strength and potential impact of its provisions.

According to the Center for Democracy & Technology’s (CDT) Harley Geiger, the “USA FREEDOM Act was a strong reform measure when it was introduced,” and that even after it was “watered down in the House Judiciary Committee,” was still a bill that would have been “an effective prohibition on bulk collection.”

In Geiger’s estimation that is no longer the case. Instead, “the version of the USA FREEDOM Act that will reach the House Floor will be so weakened that it may continue to allow mass, untargeted collection of Americans’ private records in the future.”

The CDT is not alone in its scorn for the bill in its current form. The Electronic Frontier Foundation also unloaded on the Act:

Earlier today, House Leadership reached an agreement to amend the bipartisan USA FREEDOM Act in ways that severely weaken the bill, potentially allowing bulk surveillance of records to continue. The Electronic Frontier Foundation cannot support a bill that doesn’t achieve the goal of ending mass spying. We urge Congress to support uncompromising NSA reform and we look forward to working on the Senate’s bipartisan version of the USA FREEDOM Act.

Working around the Act, Rep. Zoe Lofgren and a number of other House members proposed two amendments to the National Defense Authorization Act — amendments 228 and 229 — that would have curtailed elements of NSA activity.

The first, amendment 228, in Rep. Lofgren’s own words, would have prevented the “funding of any intelligence elements, program, or related activity that mandates a request that a device manufacturer, software developer, or standards organization build in a backdoor to circumvent the encryption or privacy protection of its products.” The congresswoman went on to cite the RSA episode in her testimony. The amendment failed.

The second amendment, offered along with Rep. Jared Polis and Rep. Justin Amash, would have halted “the use of funds for searching for the communications of U.S. persons collected under section 702 of FISA in a manner inconsistent with the probable cause requirements of the rest of Title VII regarding U.S. persons or the Fourth Amendment,” according to a summary of the amendment provided to TechCrunch. The amendment failed.

It isn’t the best week for NSA reform.