The NSA collects emails and browsing and chat histories of Americans and searches the information without a warrant under Section 702 of the FISA Amendments Act. This bulk collection is also known as the “PRISM” program, which was exposed by Edward Snowden’s leaks last year. Yesterday, the House of Representatives took an important step toward ending this practice known as “backdoor searches.” Lawmakers passed an amendment to the Defense Department appropriations bill that would prohibit the NSA from using any of its funding from this bill for blanket searches of Americans’ data without judicial oversight. Moreover, the amendment bars the NSA from mandating that private companies create backdoor vulnerabilities in their encryption standards, which are specifically designed to protect consumers.
This amendment is undoubtedly an important step toward reining in the NSA. It’s also a way for Congress to show that it’s finally taking warrantless surveillance seriously.
We sincerely hope that the amendment survives the Senate, but there is much more work to be done on protecting the privacy of innocent Americans. Had the House Rules Committee not gutted the USA Freedom Act last week, that bill would have placed meaningful limits on bulk collection, brought more transparency to the collection process, and given innocent Americans an advocate for their constitutional rights within the court that otherwise rubber-stamps NSA action.
And, of course, the NSA isn’t the only surveillance problem. Federal, state and local enforcement agencies still don’t have to get a warrant under the sorely outdated 1986 Electronic Communications Privacy Act for cell phone location data, cloud storage, emails, and modern forms of communication. Across the board, we’ll continue pushing the values of the Fourth Amendment: government should have to get a warrant before invading Americans’ privacy.
- Coalition letter signed by over 40 civil liberties groups earlier this year explaining what real NSA reform should look like.
- Feds Allow More Transparency on FISA Surveillance but Don’t Go Far Enough
- What’s So Bad About ECPA?