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Spy Reform Legislation Slowly Works Its Way Through The U.S. Congress

National Security Agency logo Change may be coming to limit National Security Agency (NSA) spy programs. Two amendments to the 2015 Defense Appropriations bill are slowly working their way through Congress. The Hill reported yesterday:

"The first amendment from Reps. Thomas Massie (R-Ky.), Lofgren and Jim Sensenbrenner (R-Wis.) would require the NSA to obtain a warrant to search for information about people in the U.S. when searching collections of communications involving foreigners. The provision would also keep the NSA from requiring tech companies to build “backdoor” security vulnerabilities into their products and services... A second amendment, offered by Rep. Alan Grayson (D-Calif.), would keep the NSA form working with the Commerce Department’s digital security agency to create faulty cryptography standards."

The two amendments represent changes that aren't as strong as the orginal bill:

"... introduced by Sensenbrenner, original author of the Patriot Act, and Senate Judiciary Chairman Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) — had multiple provisions aimed at reining in the NSA and ending sweeping “bulk” surveillance activities, such as the program that collected information about U.S. phone calls. But eleventh-hour negotiations between [GOP] House leadership and the Obama administration removed some of the changes to the NSA, prompting some lawmakers and privacy advocates to withdraw their support for the bill."

The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) provided some context about the two amendments:

"... would prevent funds from being used to search through U.S. citizens’ emails and phone calls under Section 702 of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) unless the government has reason to think they are involved in wrongdoing. While Section 702 was originally designed to target people abroad, not U.S. citizens, it has been used and abused as an end-run around our privacy laws. We now know that millions of Americans’ communications are – in the government’s words– being “incidentally” collected under 702 simply because they talk to someone abroad."

The U.S. Senate must now vote on the amendments. The ACLU  emphasized:

"The vote reaffirms that the version of the USA Freedom Act passed by the House is simply not enough. And it sends a strong message to the Senate: If even the House can agree on the need for surveillance reform – twice – then it’s clearly high time to change the law."


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