House votes to restrict backdoor government surveillance programs
Massie-Lofgren amendment closes loopholes that allow government agencies warrantless access to private data and communications without probable cause
WASHINGTON, D.C. – Today, the House of Representatives passed an amendment by Congressman Thomas Massie (R-KY) and Congresswoman Zoe Lofgren (D-CA) to defund two surveillance “backdoors” that currently allow intelligence agencies access to Americans’ private data and correspondence without a warrant. The amendment, which is part of the Fiscal Year 2016 Department of Defense appropriations bill (H.R. 2685), passed by a vote of 255-174.
“The USA Freedom Act is not the last word on surveillance reform,” said Rep. Massie. “Backdoor surveillance authorized under Section 702 of the FISA Amendments Act is arguably worse than the bulk collection of records illegally collected under Section 215 of the Patriot Act. This amendment is a much needed next step as Congress continues to rein in the surveillance state and reassert the Fourth Amendment.”
“This amendment is the most meaningful step Congress can take to end warrantless bulk collection of US persons' communications and data,” said Rep. Lofgren. “We know that mass surveillance of Americans, as reported in the news, has taken place under the FISA Section 702 authority. This vote shows once again that the House is committed to upholding the Constitution and protecting Americans from warrantless invasions of their privacy. Enacting this amendment into law will benefit our economy, protect our competitiveness abroad, and make significant strides in rebuilding the public's trust.”
Under Section 702 of the FISA Amendments Act, Americans' private data and communications – including emails, photos, and text messages – can be collected by intelligence agencies, provided that data or communication at some point crosses the border of the United States. Given the current fluid nature of electronic communications and data storage, in which corporate and private server farms store Americans’ data all over the world, this loophole could allow intelligence agencies access to a vast swath of communications and data without warrant protection. 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. Government agencies have also reportedly coerced individuals and organizations to build encryption “backdoors” into products or services for surveillance purposes, despite industry and cryptologist claims that this process is not technologically feasible without putting the data security of every individual using these services at risk. The Massie-Lofgren Amendment would prohibit funding for activities that exploit these “backdoors.”
An identical amendment to the Fiscal Year 2015 Department of Defense Appropriations Act last year passed the House of Representatives by an overwhelming 293-123 vote, but it was not included in the omnibus spending legislation that passed last December.
The amendment is supported by a broad coalition of privacy and civil liberties groups as well as tech companies, including the American Civil Liberties Union, Bill of Rights Defense Committee, Campaign for Liberty, Constitutional Alliance, Council on American-Islamic Relations, CREDO Mobile, Defending Dissent Foundation, Demand Progress, DownsizeDC.org, Electronic Frontier Foundation, Fight for the Future, Free Press Action Fund, FreedomWorks, Friends Committee on National Legislation, Generation Opportunity, Google, Liberty Coalition, Media Alliance, New America's Open Technology Institute, OpenMedia.org, OpenTheGovernment.org, Project On Government Oversight, Public Knowledge, Restore The Fourth, RootsAction.org, Student Net Alliance, Sunlight Foundation, TechFreedom, and X-Lab.
Other co-sponsors include Reps Sensenbrenner (R-WI), Conyers (D-MI), Poe (R-TX), Gabbard (D-HI), Jordan (R-OH), O'Rourke (D-TX), Amash (R-MI), Nadler (D-NY), Collins (R-GA), DelBene (D-WA), Labrador (R-ID), Pocan (D-WI), Farenthold (R-TX), Lieu (D-CA), and Sanford (R-SC).