Bill To Somewhat Diminish NSA Spying Passed By U.S. House. Is This Good News?
Yesterday, the U.S. House of Representatives passed the USA Freedom Act, a bill that somewhat restricts electronic spying by the National Security Agency against the American people. The vote was unusually strong 338 in favor, and 88 opposed.
All amendments from the floor were blocked.
The character of that vote should give us pause. Republicans who have vigorously defended spying by the NSA actually voted for this bill. Why?
Just last week, the Second Circuit Court of Appeals issued a ruling that the NSA surveillance program is illegal, allowing a lawsuit to go forward that could eventually shut down the program altogether. The passage of the USA Freedom Act might thus be seen as a move to defend the NSA spying program, rather than to meaningfully restrict it.
The Electronic Frontier Foundation has expressed strong reservations that the USA Freedom Act may actually allow the federal government to use the NSA program to continue spying on the activities of people in the United States without reasonable belief that the people being spied upon are involved in any criminal activity at all. Furthermore, the USA Freedom Act requires corporations to store data about people’s activities. That data may be accessed without adequate supervision by government agents through purposefully engineered backdoors that are not closed by the USA Freedom Act. What’s more, the mandate of bigger corporate databanks keeping more information about us will encourage expanded corporate surveillance of us, and make us even more vulnerable to hackers.
The U.S. Senate has not yet voted on its equivalent bill, S. 1123, and so there is still an opportunity for senators to improve the legislation, but they will have to negotiate with the House to send a final version to the White House, even if this opportunity is seized.
Given that the history of the NSA surveillance program is thick with deception and coverups, we would do well to regard the passage of the USA Freedom Act, and other proposed reforms, with skepticism. It may be that the passage of the USA Freedom Act leads to a shrinkage of electronic surveillance against people in the United States. On the other hand, it may, like the prohibition of Total Information Awareness by Congress a decade ago, only serve as a cover for continued massive unconstitutional seizure of the most personal details from our private accounts.