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US House To Vote On FISA Mass Surveillance Bill Today

According to the Electronic Frontier Foundation, the U.S. House will vote on whether or not to reauthorize the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) and to potentially expand both NSA and civil law enforcement agencies’ surveillance powers in the same bill.

FISA Section 702 Loopholes

According to the EFF, multiple legal loopholes exist in the FISA law, section 702, which allows the government to spy on masses of innocent people, both abroad and at home, in the U.S.

For one, the government is able to read Americans’ emails through what the EFF and Senator Ron Wyden, who is a member of the Senate Intelligence Committee, have called “backdoor searches.” The way that works is that the government has a broad interpretation of what a “foreign communication” (encrypted communications are automatically considered foreign, for instance) means, which allows it to then spy on most Americans, using this loophole.

These backdoor searches also require no individual Fourth Amendment-based warrant, as the FISA Court usually authorizes only whole surveillance programs for months at a time against entire classes of people.

Another major loophole of Section 702 of FISA is that the government collects broad information “about” a target. This would essentially allow the NSA to consider millions of innocent Americans as part of terrorism investigations if all they did is read news about terrorists that the NSA was targeting with its surveillance programmes. The “about collection” was so broad and so often abused by the NSA that the FISA Court eventually decided to block the NSA’s requests for more “about” surveillance.

However, recently, bills in the Senate and the House have tried to resurrect and codify these powers to the NSA’s benefit. These new bills, such as the USA Liberty Act or the FISA Amendments Reauthorization Act of 2017, also attempted to expand surveillance powers in other ways. For instance, the bills would codify into law that 17 law enforcement agencies would be able to access the raw mass surveillance data on both foreigners and Americans, without a warrant.

President Obama had largely already given the NSA permission to share this data with all of those other agencies, only days before he left office, but the new bills would make these changes permanent.

EFF Backs “USA Rights Act”

The USA Rights Act—not to be confused with the USA Liberty Act, or the USA Freedom Act, for that matter—is Senator Wyden as well as other senators’ (both Democrat and Republican) attempt to reform and restrict the government’s seemingly ever-expanding surveillance powers.

According to the EFF, this bill would:

Help close the backdoor search loophole, by requiring warrants for searches of Section 702-collected data that belongs to Americans.Codify the end of “about” collection, an invasive type of surveillance that was heavily criticized by the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court for privacy violations.Sunset in four years, giving Congress another chance to revisit and debate NSA surveillance.

Meanwhile, another House bill based off last year's FISA Amendments Reauthorization Act of 2017 (H.R. 4478) will extend NSA’s mass surveillance to six years, as well as allow the backdoor searches to continue. However, the co-sponsors of the bill have given it a bill code number that's typically given to Senate bills, even though this is a House bill. Nevertheless, the House bill aiming to expand NSA surveillance is called S. 139, and it has nothing to do with an actual Senate bill with the same name.

The House will vote on both bills today. The EFF encourages everyone to call their representatives and tell them to vote yes on the bill restricting NSA surveillance at home (the amendment sponsored by Rep. Justin Amash) and no on the bill expanding the government’s surveillance powers.

  • shrapnel_indie
    Sly... code it differently, make it harder for someone else to spot because they'll more than likely only be looking for HR bills, not S bill within the House of Representatives (the group that is supposed to be supporting and representing WE THE PEOPLE instead of treating us like plebs.)
    Reply
  • djohnson8800
    No surprise. Republicans have always supported and loved warrantless government spying on its citizens when they're the ones doing it.
    Reply
  • svan1971
    DJohnson8800 don't let facts weigh you down, keep telling it how it ain't.

    https://www.eff.org/deeplinks/2017/01/obama-expands-surveillance-powers-his-way-out
    Reply
  • mrmez
    "Land of the free? Whoever told you that is your enemy."
    Reply
  • bit_user
    I wonder if they intentionally timed it to coincide with CES, when it would be crowded out of the tech headlines by all the latest announcements plus crap like AI IoT-enabled wine bottle spouts.
    Reply
  • shrapnel_indie
    20582422 said:
    I wonder if they intentionally timed it to coincide with CES, when it would be crowded out of the tech headlines by all the latest announcements plus crap like AI IoT-enabled wine bottle spouts.

    Hmmm.... it is possible.
    Reply
  • shrapnel_indie
    20582012 said:
    "Land of the free? Whoever told you that is your enemy."

    There was a time when personal rights were more valued. Now, it seems not so much.
    Reply
  • shrapnel_indie
    20581715 said:
    No surprise. Republicans have always supported and loved warrantless government spying on its citizens when they're the ones doing it.

    If you want to believe that, Democrats had their chance to disembowel warrantless spying and didn't bother. Reality is Democrats are not any better, especially since they (Dems and Reps) are both two sides of the same coin.
    Reply
  • AC____
    "Land of the free? Whoever told you that is your enemy."

    I'm sorry to burst your bubble, but even will all these surveillance, USA is still the free-er country in the world.
    Reply
  • bit_user
    20583568 said:
    20581715 said:
    No surprise. Republicans have always supported and loved warrantless government spying on its citizens when they're the ones doing it.

    If you want to believe that, Democrats had their chance to disembowel warrantless spying and didn't bother. Reality is Democrats are not any better, especially since they (Dems and Reps) are both two sides of the same coin.
    I don't think it's necessarily a partisan issue, nor do I think it helps to get bogged down in partisan politics. What I think tends to happen is that intimidating people from the CIA and Pentagon take some lawmakers in a room and tell them some scary stories. Politicians don't like the idea of something Bad happening after they voted down some legislation that "could make us safer", so they easily take the vote that trades a small but real amount of liberty in order to avoid looking bad in front of their constituents. They tell themselves that it's making us safer, and probably think if it's really violating the constitution, then it'll eventually get struck down.

    One problem is that they don't consider the cost of more surveillance, and there's nobody in the room to make the case against it. Another problem is that public perception of risk is famously skewed. People dramatically over-weight exotic and scary-sounding risks, while underestimating common risks. So, the public is largely to blame for both electing the clowns who write these bills & take these votes, and for continually getting so worked up about anything construed as terrorism.

    Of course, the media doesn't help matters by following their natural incentive to report on unusual and scary things, which further skews public perception of the risks. In fairness, if reporting actually correlated with risk, most of the time would be taken up by reporting on traffic accidents and unhealthy lifestyle choices, with only a couple seconds devoted to terrorism.
    Reply