House approves “watered-down” NSA reforms

posted at 12:41 pm on May 22, 2014 by Ed Morrissey

A bipartisan vote in the House of Representatives passed sweeping changes to US surveillance law — but for some, the changes don’t sweep enough. On a 303-121 vote, the House sent the USA Freedom Act to the Senate, while NSA critics complained of watered-down reforms that don’t go far enough to rein in domestic surveillance:

The House on Thursday passed the most sweeping changes to the country’s intelligence operations in over a decade, voting to limit the National Security Agency’s ability to snoop on communications.

The USA Freedom Act, which passed 303-121, had run into opposition from some of the NSA’s biggest critics, who warned that the legislation had been gutted in recent weeks. Fifty-one Republicans and 70 Democrats voted against the bill.

The bill, written by Patriot Act author Rep. Jim Sensenbrenner (R-Wis.), codifies many of the surveillance reforms supported by President Obama and effectively ends the government’s bulk collection of phone records.

Sensenbrenner wasn’t all that enthusiastic about his own bill, but argued that it was the best that could be produced at this time. Bloomberg News has good coverage of the debate:

The White House expressed its pleasure over the passage of the bill:

Not everyone is as pleased, especially not the tech companies on the front lines of this surveillance:

The measure also reduces from three to two the number of “hops,” or degrees of separation, away from a suspected target the NSA can jump when analyzing communications. The amended language, however, dropped a provision that would have allowed companies to disclose the level of surveillance orders received under section 702 of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, and it codifies a two-year delay for making some surveillance orders public.

But the new version of the bill that emerged Tuesday—the product of more than a week of backroom negotiations among House leadership, the White House and the intelligence community—endured a thorough lashing from tech giants like Google and Facebook and a number of privacy watchdogs like the American Civil Liberties Union and the Open Technology Institute.

Of particular concern is the bill’s altered definition of “specific selection term,” which provides a framework for how intelligence agencies would be required to define their desired targets when conducting a search of phone records. An earlier draft, including one passed two weeks ago by the Judiciary and Intelligence committees, defined selectors as “a person, account or entity.” The new bill tacks on words like “address” and “device” to the list and contains language that critics argue could be interpreted loosely.

In addition to worries about phone records, the Reform Government Surveillance coalition—whose members include Google, Facebook, Apple and others—expressed doubt late Wednesday that the bill could also open “an unacceptable loophole that could enable the bulk collection of Internet users’ data.”

Rep. Justin Amash, one of the Freedom Act’s original cosponsors and a vocal critic of NSA spying, announced Thursday morning he was also voting no on the measure because it “codified a large-scale, unconstitutional domestic spying program” and violated the Fourth Amendment.

Meanwhile, the prime driver of this debate remains in Russia — but not forgotten by the US intelligence community. Portions of a highly-classified Pentagon review of the Edward Snowden theft were released by a FOIA action, and the assessment of Snowden’s actions is that it caused “grave” damage to US national security, with the scope of the stolen material “staggering”:

A top-secret Pentagon report to assess the damage to national security from the leak of classified National Security Agency documents by Edward Snowden concluded that “the scope of the compromised knowledge related to US intelligence capabilities is staggering”.

The Guardian has obtained a copy of the Defense Intelligence Agency’s classified damage assessment in response to a Freedom of Information Act (Foia) lawsuit filed against the Defense Department earlier this year. The heavily redacted 39-page report was prepared in December and is titled “DoD Information Review Task Force-2: Initial Assessment, Impacts Resulting from the Compromise of Classified Material by a Former NSA Contractor.”

But while the DIA report describes the damage to US intelligence capabilities as “grave”, the government still refuses to release any specific details to support this conclusion. The entire impact assessment was redacted from the material released to the Guardian under a presidential order that protects classified information and several other Foia exemptions.

Only 12 pages of the report were declassified by DIA and released. A Justice Department attorney said DIA would continue to process other internal documents that refer to the DIA report for possible release later this year.

The USA Freedom Act goes to the Senate, which will probably produce something similar enough to settle in a quick conference committee, if the White House is on board already with the House effort. The next question Congress should tackle is the safeguards within the defense and intelligence agencies to prevent such a “staggering” theft of data from occurring again, while strengthening paths for legitimate whistleblowers to expose abuses and illegal activities.


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House also approved, with huge D majority, a bill to fire anyone from the VA…the senate ignores and obama didn’t say he’d sign.

Schadenfreude on May 22, 2014 at 12:43 PM

All of the Dems should just come out of the closet already.

oscarwilde on May 22, 2014 at 12:45 PM

No law is needed here. What the NSA is doing is ILLEGAL ALREADY because the Constitution spells out clearly the process for taking actions against American Citizens. It grants no process outside search warrants, indictments, and trials.

Anyone in the Federal Government using any other process to monitor, harass, lock up, kill Americans are criminals themselves.

ConstantineXI on May 22, 2014 at 12:51 PM

Hope or Change, you decide.

Bishop on May 22, 2014 at 12:55 PM

http://www.itanimulli.org

Akzed on May 22, 2014 at 12:58 PM

Just be honest and rename it the “NSA Freedom to spy” act

Mu on May 22, 2014 at 1:01 PM

We should have a law that requires the NSA to send americans a file with whatever information they have on them…that should probably wake up people when they found out the extend of the surveillance…

ujorge on May 22, 2014 at 1:08 PM

the assessment of Snowden’s actions is that it caused “grave” damage to US national security, with the scope of the stolen material “staggering”:

The damage it caused was to the government, not the country or our security. The data is an embarrassment to the individuals who run the country, faced with becoming exposed with massive unConstitutional activity under the guise of “national security”.

BTW, has anyone thought about how Gen. Petraeus’ texts and emails came to light?

The staggering superlative is also an indictment of just how much data the government is collecting at the NSA.

Staggering.

BobMbx on May 22, 2014 at 1:09 PM

“The days of the NSA indiscriminately vacuuming more data than it can store will end with the USA Freedom Act,” Sensenbrenner said.
==============================================================

Hmmmm, …..”Indiscriminately”!

canopfor on May 22, 2014 at 1:18 PM

MeanWhile,……

http://www.breakingnews.com/topic/us-department-of-defense-2015-budget/

2015 National Defense Authorization Act

46m
House passes $601 billion defense bill that spares planes, ships from Pentagon cuts – @AP
End of alert
==============

US budget negotiations 2014
1mo
More: House Republican budget boosts defense spending $483 billion above sequester levels over the next decade; adheres to 2015 caps reached in the December budget deal – @thehill
Read more on thehill.com

canopfor on May 22, 2014 at 1:20 PM

NSA reform proposals
2h
House passes USA Freedom Act, which would prohibit the bulk collection of telephone metadata; vote was 303-121 – @toddzwillich, @frankthorpNBC
see original on twitter.com

canopfor on May 22, 2014 at 1:24 PM

Rep. Justin Amash, one of the Freedom Act’s original cosponsors and a vocal critic of NSA spying, announced Thursday morning he was also voting no on the measure because it “codified a large-scale, unconstitutional domestic spying program” and violated the Fourth Amendment.

Someone to look forward to …

BobMbx on May 22, 2014 at 1:09 PM

What you said.

This is the problem with a government to obsessed with secrecy. “Trust us.” It becomes Rule Of Dictator (or Bureaucracy), not Rule Of Law. I am sure that Libby Freordie is happy with that. Fascism is Libby’s thing.

Chuck Ef on May 22, 2014 at 1:25 PM

Todd Zwillich ‏@toddzwillich 1h

.@SpeakerBoehner says no more bites at NSA reform this year (except of course negotiating w Senate)
Expand

Reply
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Todd Zwillich ‏@toddzwillich 1h

.@SpeakerBoehner on Obama Admin re NSA bill: “Their position and the position of House Republicans was pretty close.”
Expand

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Todd Zwillich ‏@toddzwillich 1h

.@SpeakerBoehner “I have not called for Gen Shinsecki to resign, though I have to admit I’m getting closer.”

https://twitter.com/toddzwillich

canopfor on May 22, 2014 at 1:32 PM

Roll Call

FINAL VOTE RESULTS FOR ROLL CALL 230
(Republicans in roman; Democrats in italic; Independents underlined)

H R 3361 YEA-AND-NAY 22-May-2014 11:03 AM
QUESTION: On Passage
BILL TITLE: USA FREEDOM Act

http://clerk.house.gov/evs/2014/roll230.xml

http://clerk.house.gov/legislative/legvotes.aspx

canopfor on May 22, 2014 at 1:41 PM

Speaking of Snowden:

NSA leaker Edward Snowden granted temporary asylum in Russia
6m
Edward Snowden gives 1st American TV interview to Brian Williams; interview to air May 28 – @NBCNews
Read more on nbcnews.com

http://www.nbcnews.com/storyline/nsa-snooping/exclusive-edward-snowden-gives-wide-ranging-interview-brian-williams-n110351

canopfor on May 22, 2014 at 1:52 PM

I appreciate what Snowden did. His decision to leak the stolen documents has done the conservative movement an enormous favor. It has blown to smithereens the greatest single myth of conservatism: “If the American people knew about this, there would be an uprising.” No, there wouldn’t.

I have heard variants of these arguments for 50 years. Conservatives don’t learn. They think that by exposing the Bad Guys, they will defeat the Bad Guys. They’re wrong.

Snowden has proven, as no one in my era has better proved, that exposure of the Bad Guys in government has no negative effect on them.

If exposure does come, and the public does nothing to thwart the hidden Bad Guys, then the Bad Guys no longer have to worry about further exposure. It will be old news. At this point, they can do even more to secure their position of power. The pressure blows over. There may be a time of bad publicity, but this does not change anything fundamental.

Snowden did thrown light on a power grab by the government that is perpetual. It is generally hidden.

NSA is more powerful than ever.

Here’s the reality: nobody cares. The NSA now knows this. It can issue its denials. Nobody in Congress is going to call the NSA’s bluff. The only way to stop a bureaucracy is to cut its funding, and there is no attempt in Congress to cut the NSA’s funding. I don’t think this is simply because Congressmen know that they can be blackmailed forever by the NSA. I’m sure they can be. But I think the basic reason is this: the voters back home don’t care. If the voters don’t care, and Congress is dealing with a massive bureaucracy that defends itself in terms of protecting the public against terrorism, then why take the political risk? There is no positive political payoff, and there is potentially a serious series of negative political payoffs.

Around the world, it is getting cheaper and cheaper to monitor people’s movements. In major cities, there are surveillance cameras everywhere. Nobody cares.

The longer the procedures go on, the less likely there is any possibility of reversing them. The tradition is accepted. The practices become customary. They become part of our basic acceptance.

That which we do not think about is immune from reform, let alone abolition. If we don’t think about it, the bureaucrats have free rein.

Until the voters’ minds change regarding big government, exposure of major infringements on our liberties has no effect in rolling back the state.

If voters accept the interventionist state, they are glad to hear about the Bad Guys. “They are making us safer.” “They are protecting us from terrorists.” “We need them.” “The loss of our privacy is the price of liberty. It’s worth paying.”

The variant regarding the NSA: “If you haven’t done anything wrong, you have nothing to fear.”

“Your papers, please. You have nothing to fear if you have not done anything wrong.”

This assumes that the state is benign. It assumes that the state only goes after bad guys.

There has been no uprising of the American people to defend their privacy.

Now, the NSA can really get busy. “No more Mr. Nice Guy.”

roflmmfao

donabernathy on May 22, 2014 at 1:53 PM

They have run out of other people’s money to give away during these compromises, so now they are turning to giving away other people’s rights. (Note that they never include their own rights in these giveaways.)

Jay Bee on May 22, 2014 at 1:55 PM

The infrastructure must be made resistant to data collection. Forget the “legislative reforms”.

The adolescent internet could have been made much more secure, but it was a low, low priority compared to just plain expansion.

Ultimately, no one should be able to decrypt your communication except you and those you are communicating with. It’s possible now, but not practical, and it would break the business model of surveillance that is the internet today. You’re going to have to start paying for email, because free email works only when your communications are up for grabs.

bbhack on May 22, 2014 at 2:19 PM

Profiles In Courage!

Another Drew on May 22, 2014 at 2:30 PM

If you haven’t already seen this excellent two part documentary about the NSA and how Snowden blew the whistle, please watch and spread it around:

Frontline: United States of Secrets
Part 1: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WUe6qyEXoJQ
Part 2: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3qIamc4j-wA

FloatingRock on May 22, 2014 at 2:41 PM

Any truth to the rumor that Snowden is Val Jarrett’s love child?

kenny on May 22, 2014 at 2:48 PM

Snowden has proven, as no one in my era has better proved, that exposure of the Bad Guys in government has no negative effect on them.

donabernathy on May 22, 2014 at 1:53 PM

That’s largely because the oligarchy owns the political process and the media. The oligarchy has a monopoly on government and Democracy is a sham. You can vote, but both choices serve the oligarchy, not the American people. There is no way out of the trap from inside the oligarchy’s two parties. A third party is the minimum requirement to turn DC around and make it serve the people again instead of the globalist oligarchy.

FloatingRock on May 22, 2014 at 2:51 PM

Any truth to the rumor that Snowden is Val Jarrett’s love child?

kenny on May 22, 2014 at 2:48 PM

What, are you a neocon Aliskyite trying to smear Snowden?

FloatingRock on May 22, 2014 at 2:52 PM

What, are you a neocon Aliskyite trying to smear Snowden?

FloatingRock on May 22, 2014 at 2:52 PM

No no Snowden good. We all love traitorous narcissistic scumbags.

kenny on May 22, 2014 at 2:54 PM

The infrastructure must be made resistant to data collection. Forget the “legislative reforms”.

bbhack on May 22, 2014 at 2:19 PM

+1. Encrypt the Internet, de-centralize it, anonymize it and make it as impossible as we can for fascists to invade our privacy or cut off access. I hope it’s possible to do this and happens soon. I hope that in the future companies who fight back against fascism will ascend to the top and companies that collaborate with fascists will fall out of favor and go out of business.

FloatingRock on May 22, 2014 at 3:05 PM

No no Snowden good. We all love traitorous narcissistic scumbags.

kenny on May 22, 2014 at 2:54 PM

Project much?

FloatingRock on May 22, 2014 at 3:05 PM

Aliskyite

Spelling issue. It is ALINSK with an N. His fondest hope in Life was to be recognized by his beloved mentor, Lucifer. Both Paunchy Hill and the WH Punk are big followers and enthusiasts of the evil little scorpion. Myself, Catholic

kenny on May 22, 2014 at 3:14 PM

Project much?

FloatingRock on May 22, 2014 at 3:05 PM

Jungian projection is a bunch of crap. If you mean projecting ideas than yes.

kenny on May 22, 2014 at 3:20 PM

I hope that in the future companies who fight back against fascism will ascend to the top and companies that collaborate with fascists will fall out of favor and go out of business.

FloatingRock on May 22, 2014 at 3:05 PM

I have heard that US computing and internet and IT is in deep doodoo; sales are plumetting. This may affect some of my investments, but I can only think this is a necessary thing, if not a good thing for our mutual funds.

bbhack on May 22, 2014 at 3:34 PM

What can you do…

Today?) Use Tor as much as possible.

Soon?) Get away from free email, and use end-to-end encryption with as many people as possible (that would be very few for now).

Future?) Buy end-to-end encrypted phones if they ever become available and practical and stay legal.

bbhack on May 22, 2014 at 3:44 PM

A third party is the minimum requirement to turn DC around and make it serve the people again instead of the globalist oligarchy.

FloatingRock on May 22, 2014 at 2:51 PM

Now, why don’t you start it :)… Get busy! :)

jimver on May 22, 2014 at 3:46 PM

An intelligence agency that fears intelligence? Historically, not awesome.
Tony Stark, The Avengers

I’m pretty sure this quote could have also been attributed to our founding fathers.

KMC1 on May 22, 2014 at 3:50 PM

Are we to believe this guy is untouchable? That we don’t have a black ops or an agent or two in Russia that can give this guy a cyanide cocktail or something like the Mafia does?

If we can drone a US born terrorist in Yemen and take him out, why isn’t this POS just as deserving? Just saying.

What do we have a CIA for?

FlaVet on May 22, 2014 at 4:24 PM

What do we have a CIA for?

FlaVet on May 22, 2014 at 4:24 PM

Apparently to protect people from nutcases like you. Idiot. You want your government spying on you? Go live in frickin china or venzuela or Russia or some other utopia.

KMC1 on May 22, 2014 at 4:50 PM

KMC1 on May 22, 2014 at 4:50 PM

You want your government spying on you?

I guess you can’t read…know what the NSA does already skippy? Don’t answer the question though…Obama can kill one, but not the other? When both have done enormous damage? Why…cause ones a Muslim and the other is snow white? Go sit in the corner.

FlaVet on May 22, 2014 at 5:50 PM

House approves “watered-down” NSA reforms

…the House should be “water-boarded”!

KOOLAID2 on May 22, 2014 at 9:54 PM