House to Vote on Amendment to Shut Surveillance Backdoors

June 15, 2016
Press Release

 WASHINGTON, D.C. – The House of Representatives is set to debate and vote on a renewed effort to restrict warrantless surveillance. The amendment, offered to the Fiscal Year 2017 Department of Defense appropriations bill by Representatives Thomas Massie (R-KY) and Zoe Lofgren (D-CA), would prohibit warrantless backdoor searches of U.S. citizens' online communications without first obtaining a warrant.  It would also prevent the government from coercing individuals and companies to insert software or hardware vulnerabilities, also known as "encryption backdoors," into products for surveillance purposes. The House of Representatives passed an identical amendment last year by an overwhelming 255-174 vote, and the year before by a veto-proof majority.

"By requiring a warrant to conduct surveillance on Americans, this amendment strikes the appropriate balance between national security and civil liberty and is a much needed next step as Congress continues to rein in the surveillance state and reassert the Fourth Amendment," said Massie.

 "This amendment is the most meaningful step Congress can take to end warrantless bulk collection of US persons' communications data, as well as protect that data from malicious hackers and bad actors," said Lofgren. "The House has shown – by voting for the amendment by a large margin twice over the last two years – that it is committed to upholding the Constitution and protecting Americans from invasions of their privacy. With threats to America, we should not endanger the security of our digital environment by weakening encryption that protects everything from the power grid to air traffic control." 

 The Massie-Lofgren Amendment has two components. The first prohibits warrantless searches of U.S. persons' online communications and data. Currently, under Section 702 of the FISA Amendments Act, Americans' private data and communications – including emails, photos, and text messages – are incidentally collected by intelligence agencies.  This allows access to a vast swath of communications and data without a warrant. Intelligence officials have confirmed to Congress that law enforcement agencies actively search the content of this intercepted data without probable cause, and have used evidence gathered to assist in criminal prosecutions.

 The second component prohibits government agencies from pressuring companies to build encryption "backdoors" in products or services for surveillance purposes. Industry leaders, technologists, and cryptologists agree these encryption backdoors put the data security of any individual using these services at risk.

 An identical amendment to the Fiscal Year 2016 Department of Defense Appropriations Act last year passed the House of Representatives by an overwhelming 255-174 vote, but was not included in the omnibus spending legislation passed last December.

 The House is expected to debate this amendment on Wednesday, June 15th, 2016, and vote on this amendment and the underlying bill on Thursday, June 16th, 2016.

 The amendment is supported by a broad coalition of privacy and civil liberties groups including Advocacy for Principled Action in Government, American Civil Liberties Union, Bill of Rights Defense Committee/Defending Dissent Foundation, Campaign for Liberty, Center for Democracy & Technology, Constitutional Alliance, Demand Progress, Electronic Frontier Foundation, Fight for the Future, Free the People, FreedomWorks, National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers, New America's Open Technology Institute, Niskanen Center, R Street Institute, Restore The Fourth, The Sunlight Foundation, and X-Lab.

Other co-sponsors include U.S. Reps. Poe (R-Texas), Amash (R-Mich.), DelBene (D-Wash.), Farenthold (R-Texas), Lieu (D-Calif.), Nadler (D-N.Y.), Pocan (D-Wis.), Conyers (D-Mich.), Jordan (R-Ohio), Butterfield (D-N.C.), O'Rourke (D-Texas), Gabbard (D-Hawaii), Labrador (R-ID), Sensenbrenner (R-Wis.), Issa (R-Calif.), and Gosar (R-Ariz.).

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