House Passes Amendment Ordering Actual Restraints on NSA Searches


Shut the back door.
Public Domain

Tonight the House voted to approve an amendment to a defense appropriation bill shutting down the part of National Security Agency (NSA) "backdoor searches" that collects metadata on Americans without a warrant. The bill was sponsored by Reps. Thomas Massie (R-Ky.) and Zoe Lofgren (D-Calif.). The Electronic Frontier Foundation explains:

Today, the US House of Representatives passed an amendment to the Defense Appropriations bill designed to cut funding for NSA backdoors. The amendment passed overwhelmingly with strong bipartisan support: 293 ayes, 123 nays, and 1 present.

Currently, the NSA collects emails, browsing and chat history under Section 702 of the FISA Amendments Act, and searches this information without a warrant for the communications of Americans—a practice known as "backdoor searches." The amendment would block the NSA from using any of its funding from this Defense Appropriations Bill to conduct such warrantless searches. In addition, the amendment would prohibit the NSA from using its budget to mandate or request that private companies and organizations add backdoors to the encryption standards that are meant to keep you safe on the web.

The amendment was supported by a majority of both Democrats and Republicans, though more Republicans voted against it than Democrats. The newly elected House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) voted against it.

Vox.com offers some additional context:

By itself, prohibiting backdoor searches falls far short of the kind of sweeping NSA reforms some civil liberties groups support. But the vote represents the first time a house of Congress has voted to curtail the controversial practices revealed by Ed Snowden last year. It will give NSA critics renewed political momentum and may force President Obama to make further concessions to critics of the NSA.

In August, Rep. Justin Amash (R-MI) offered an amendment to last year's defense funding bill that would have shut down a different NSA program: the collection of Americans' phone records. That vote failed in a razor-thin 205 to 217 vote. But the surprising closeness of the vote was widely interpreted as a sign of congressional anger over the NSA's actions.

Julian Sanchez, a senior fellow at the Cato Institute, argues that the vote is a rebuke to the House Permanent Select Intelligence Committee. That body is supposed to serve as a watchdog over NSA surveillance, but in recent years it has more often acted as a defender of NSA policies. The vote, Sanchez says, "demonstrates pretty dramatically that the gatekeepers in the Intelligence Committee are out of synch with the sentiment of the broader House."

Sanchez also notes that similar language was stripped from the USA FREEDOM Act, legislation intended to rein in the NSA that wound up being substantially weakened during the legislative process.

UPDATE: Here is the actual text of the amendment.

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  1. I don’t even keep meta-data in my backdoor so how does this help me?

  2. What’s with these late postings?

      1. Fair enough. We in the Mountain time zone appreciate it.

        Wonder if we would know if the NSA complies with the amendment?

        1. See one post lower.

  3. NSA says ‘Yeah, sure.’

  4. God damnit Reason.

  5. They already break the law. Why would they bother follow this one? Not like the Senate will let it stand anyway.

  6. “The newly elected House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) voted against it.”

    Screw newly elected House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy.

    1. I see we went from one gem of a man to another…

  7. It could be reasonably argued that this vote is a litmus test vote. It separates the hard core statist from the fence setters and true liberty lovers on both teams. Note where the blues came down on this one–more of them voted against the measure.

    No surprise here. Many repubs are not friends of liberty.

    1. Oops. Note where the REDS came down…

      1. It could be reasonably argued that this vote is a litmus test vote. It separates the hard core statist from the fence setters and true liberty lovers on both teams.

        Oops. Note where the REDS came down…

        Certainly a ‘nay’ is a rule out, but an ‘aye’ is hardly a rule in.

        Why the hell would you need the NSA when you can legally compel everyone to give you their health, residence, and income information and make them pay for it!

        Being in charge of the ‘FYTW’ makes for powerfully deceptive politics.

  8. That dude really does not have a clue.


  9. Haven’t read the bill yet. Is there anything in there about oversight or enforcement? Or is the NSA expected to comply on its honor?

    Also, what are the odds that this makes it through the Senate and past the POTUS?

  10. That body is supposed to serve as a watchdog over NSA surveillance

    Remember the modern meaning of “watchdog,” namely, “lapdog.”

  11. I wonder if NSA collected emails from the IRS…

  12. 293 ayes, 123 nays, and 1 present

    Looks like someone’s gearing up for a presidential run!

    1. Looks like there’s 293 Rep’s who need the surveillance stepped up on them, 123 Rep’s trying to suck up (but it’s not going to work), and 1 snitch.

      The government as punisher only works if you think you CAN get caught. Looks to me like we’re already caught, it’s whether they feel like doing anything about it. Personally, I think the cat’s out of the bag. They know everything about us (and every digital bad deed we perhaps have done) so we might as well live it up. If we’ve done anything bad, how much more guilty are we going to be by going full on? Just like a line of speeders on the interstate, they can’t pull us all over, and if you’re number comes up, it comes up. It’s chance at this point, so smoke’em if you got’em.

      1. Pretty much, this.

        Although, I will say this to the government fucks: you want me, come get me. I will use every bit of training YOU have provided me against you.

        1. Is there any reason why the government fucks would want you?

  13. Republicans claim to support the constitution but once again fail to prove it by more voting this bill down including the new leader from California. So much for hoping things were going to change with cantor gone. At least the bill did pass though that is something.

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