Congress passes amendment to defund NSA ‘backdoor’ surveillance

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In a rare show of bipartisan cooperation, the House of Representatives voted for an amendment that seeks to cut funding for part of the National Security Agency’s surveillance program, particularly the use of “backdoors” that allow spy agencies to monitor private data and communications. The amendment, which was inserted into a defense appropriations bill, was passed with overwhelming support with a vote of 293-123. In its current form, the amendment may mean the end of the NSA’s warrantless spying on people’s Internet activity, which includes emails and search logs. Currently, data like emails (as long as it is older than 180 days) and mobile phone locations can be monitored without warrants.

“None of the funds made available by this Act may be used by the National Security Agency or the Central Intelligence Agency to mandate or request that a person … alter its product or service to permit the electronic surveillance … of any user of said product or service for said agencies,” the amendment read.

“There’s no question Americans have become increasingly alarmed with the breadth of unwarranted government surveillance programs used to store and search their private data,” said Rep. Jim Sensenbrenner (R-Wi), Rep. Zoe Lofgren (D-Ca), and Thomas Massie (R-Ky), the amendment’s sponsors, said in a press release. “This amendment will reinstate an important provision that was stripped from the original USA Freedom Act to further protect the constitutional rights of American citizens. Congress has an ongoing obligation to conduct oversight of the intelligence community and its surveillance authorities.”

The amendment has received backing from privacy advocates, who are calling it the “first step in reining in the NSA.”

“The House voted overwhelmingly to cut funding for two of the NSA’s invasive surveillance practices: the warrantless searching of Americans’ international communications, and the practice of requiring companies to install vulnerabilities in communications products or service. We applaud the House for taking this important first step, and we look forward to other elected officials standing for our right to privacy.,” Mark Rufold, a staff attorney for the Electronic Frontier Foundation, said in a press release.

The passage of the amendment softens the blow of a previous legislative defeat for privacy advocates. Last month, the USA Freedom Act was passed by Congress with a vote of 303-121. Critics say that the bill was gutted to the point that it actually expanded the data pool from which the NSA can collect data.

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