With Congressional Leaders Blocking Serious Reform, Tepid Section 702 Reform Bill Moves Forward | Spanlish


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Monday, November 13, 2017

With Congressional Leaders Blocking Serious Reform, Tepid Section 702 Reform Bill Moves Forward

"Better than nothing" appears to be the motto of the House of Representatives' attempt to implement Section 702 reforms before the end of the year. The USA Liberty Act was introduced in October, bringing with it a few minor alterations to the NSA's collection efforts. Perhaps the best thing about the bill was its codification of the NSA's retirement of its "about" email collection. This would prevent the NSA from restarting a collection responsible for the greatest "incidental" harvesting of domestic communications (that we know of).

It also would expand reporting requirements for agencies making use of Section 702 collections as well as extend whistleblower protections to government contractors. Unfortunately, the bill does not close the loophole allowing "backdoor" searches of domestic communications collected by the program.

Beyond that, Section 702 stays pretty much intact. It's better than leaving it unaltered, but it's far less comprehensive (in terms of reforms) than the option introduced in the Senate by Ron Wyden. Unfortunately, the Senate is far more likely to pass the zero reform effort offered by the NSA's oversight -- one that allows the NSA to restart its "about" collection, as well as expand the number of criminal activities that will justify backdoor searches of NSA data stores. That's the bill that's already advanced, according to David Ruiz of the EFF, who brings more bad tidings along with this news.

The House Judiciary Committee on Wednesday approved the USA Liberty Act, a surveillance reform package introduced last month by House Judiciary Committee Chairman Bob Goodlatte (R-VA) and Ranking Member John Conyers (D-MI). The bill is seen by many as the best option for reauthorizing and reforming Section 702 of the FISA Amendments Act of 2008, which is set to expire in less than two months.

Some committee members described feeling forced to choose between supporting stronger surveillance reforms or advancing the Liberty Act, and voiced their frustration about provisions that only partly block the warrantless search of Americans’ communications when an amendment with broader surveillance reforms was introduced by Reps. Zoe Lofgren (D-CA) and Ted Poe (R-TX). Complicating their deliberations was the fact that the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence has already reported out a bill with far fewer surveillance protections.

The more stringent amendment has been stiff-armed by Congressional leadership, who have made it clear they'll kill the entire reform bill if this amendment remains attached. Still, the Lofgren/Poe amendment has its supporters, but this support is largely composed of representatives on the wrong side of political equation. In a Republican-led house, the support of scattered Democrats is pretty much useless.

House leadership apparently does not want Section 702 to undergo any serious reforms. So, it's let representatives know they can have a watered-down reform bill or nothing at all.

Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee (D-TX)... appeared frustrated with the situation: “I’ll put on record that I resent being held hostage by leadership that does not know the intensity of the work and the responsibilities of the judiciary committee.”

This is how things work in the beltway. Top reps with the power to kill bills are willing to nod briefly at reform, but unwilling to undertake the sort of effort required to rein in the NSA and several domestic agencies with access to 702 collections. The administration has made it clear it's not interested in changing a thing in terms of surveillance, giving Congressional leaders all the reason they need to continue toeing the line.

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