Access applauds passage of surveillance-limiting amendments

This morning, the United States House of Representatives passed the Department of Defense Appropriations Act to provide funding for defense agencies for the next fiscal year, which included several amendments to the bill approved last night which are intended to limit NSA surveillance activities and authorities.

Representatives Massie, Sensenbrenner, and Lofgren introduced an amendment which would prevent funds from being used to request or require back doors to be built into any product or service. The provision would also shut the so-called “backdoor search loophole” in FISA Amendments Act Section 702, preventing searches using names or other identifiers of U.S. persons. The provisions would not otherwise limit how Section 702, or other surveillance authorities such as Executive Order 12333, may be used to spy on non-U.S. persons, something that Access has repeatedly called for. The amendment passed with 293 Representatives voting in favor (compared to only 123 Representatives dissenting).

A separate amendment to prevent NSA from compromising encryption standards also passed last night unanimously by voice vote. The amendment was sponsored by Representatives Grayson, Lofgren, and Holt. Access supports legislation that increases the security of online communications and prevents the National Security Agency from unduly influencing encryption standards. Companies also have a role to play in protecting user security online, and Access’ Data Security Action Plan identifies seven security-enhancing steps that companies can help prevent unauthorized access to user data.

The Appropriations Act identifies how funding, previously authorized by Congress, will be apportioned. The sections allocating funds to the NSA are classified and not made available to the public. Therefore, as noted in ProPublica, some funding provisions may explicitly contravene the prohibitions in the amendments.

The Bill will now head to the Senate for a vote, where the amendments would have to be re-introduced and passed again. If the amendments are not introduced as part of the bill, or if they fail during the voting processes, the bill will head for a reconciliation process, where a special committee will decide what version gets sent back to both chambers for a new vote. The final bill will then head to the White House for the President’s signature.