Funding Amendment To Curtail Warrantless Surveillance Proposed In House

A bipartisan group of Congress members have proposed an amendment to the Fiscal Year 2015 Department of Defense Appropriations Act aimed at reining in government surveillance. The amendment would ban the funding of government to either demand or request a “backdoor” into products built by technology companies. It would also ban the funding of searches of the data of US persons under the authority of Section 702 of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA).

The amendment is similar to what Rep. Zoe Lofgren offered in May to the National Defense Authorization Act. She proposed two amendments, also to curtail funding for the weakening of technology products, and preventing the financing of Section 702 searches on Americans.

Those amendments failed.

Supporting the new amendment is Rep. Zoe Lofgren, again, along with Rep. Justin AmashRep. Rush Holt, Rep. Jim Sensenbrenner, and Rep. Thomas Massie, among others.

Voting on amendments to the Defense Appropriations Act kick off today. Voting on this amendment should occur tomorrow.

So why should you care about Section 702 reform? When the House recently passed the USA FREEDOM Act, criticism of its final form was sharp, especially regarding 702 searches. Here’s the EFF detailing its discontent:

Further, the bill does not sufficiently address Section 702 of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Amendments Act. We are specifically concerned that the new language references “about” searches, which collect and review messages of users who do not even communicate with surveillance targets.Congress must include reforming Section 702 in any NSA reform. This includes stopping the NSA from searching illegally collected Americans’ communications, stopping the suspicionless “about” surveillance, and ensuring companies can report on the exact number of orders they receive and the number of users affected.

The proposed amendment would defund searches of collected data, which would be real progress.

In the case of backdoors, banning the use of funds to request or demand special access is at the root, leaving aside privacy implications — a security point. If you introduce weaknesses into technology, they are, of course, less strong. The amendment would ban the forced weakening of technology products that, especially in the current climate, need all the armor they can muster.

Given that similar amendments failed quite recently, I’m not too optimistic this time around. But, that it has risen again and have attracted support from both parties shows that, despite passing a neutered NSA reform bill, the House isn’t done with the issue quite yet.

Update: Post has been corrected to reflect that this is a single amendment with two thrusts, and not two separate amendments, as the author originally understood. He also apologizes.