As we’ve been saying, the passage of the USA Freedom Act is just a small first step in the long road to real surveillance reform. On Wednesday, the House took another small step, voting overwhelmingly in favor of an amendment to an appropriations bill put forth by Rep. Thomas Massie that blocks funding to the National Institute of Science and Technology (NIST) for working with the NSA or CIA to undermine or backdoor encryption. This appears to be quite similar to part of the similar amendment last year that banned both this kind of NIST coordination, but also the NSA’s use of backdoor searches under Section 702. As far as I can tell, this new amendment does not include that latter bit. Either way, this amendment passed 383 to 43.
It appears that another amendment, put forth by Rep. Ted Poe also passed by voice vote and it would block the use of funds from the DOJ/FBI from being used “to mandate or request that a person alter the product or service of the person to permit electronic surveillance of any user or service” except in cases required under existing wiretapping law.
Both of these are very big deals, and the fact that they passed so easily suggests that the House is nowhere near done on pushing for real surveillance reform. Of course, whether or not these actually go anywhere is another story. As you may recall, after passing overwhelmingly last year, under pressure to get a big omnibus bill done at the end of the year, the House leadership agreed to drop those provisions under pressure from the intelligence community.
Also, one other interesting amendment also appears to have passed easily by voice vote, which is an amendment put forth by Jared Polis, and would make it clear that the DEA cannot do bulk collection under its subpoena authority. As was detailed a few weeks ago, for many years, the DEA had been using this authority to collect tons of phone records, and the program only ended once the administration realized that the claims it was using in support of the NSA’s bulk collection didn’t apply to the DEA’s collection, and thus they couldn’t really continue it. Polis’s amendment means that this particular loophole is closed for good (not that others might still be open…).
Again, all three of these may not survive all the way into law, but it does show that there’s still a very strong interest in the House to continue pushing back against surveillance abuse.
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