The amendment, which is expected to be offered by Representatives Massie and Lofgren and a bipartisan coalition of cosponsors and could be debated as early as this evening, would restrict funding to the Defense Department in two ways that would help constrain the NSA’s broad surveillance powers. [UPDATE JUNE 19, 2014: The amendment is now additionally supported by House Judiciary Crime Subcommittee Chair Jim Sensenbrenner, a key Republican leader, and House Judiciary Committee Ranking Member John Conyers, a key Democratic leader.] First, it would prohibit the use of appropriated funds to exploit the so-called “backdoor search loophole” that allows government agents to search the private communications of Americans who have been swept up in the NSA’s surveillance programs without first getting a search warrant. Second, it would respond to reports that the NSA has been pushing companies to insert security vulnerabilities into their products to facilitate surveillance, by preventing the NSA or the CIA from using any appropriated funds to require or request that providers of products or services build such surveillance “backdoors” into their offerings.
“We deserve to be able to rely on the security of our communications services and our digital devices, yet the National Security Agency has been actively working to insert new weaknesses—surveillance “backdoors”—into those products and services in a way that undermines everyone’s privacy and security,” said Kevin Bankston, OTI’s policy director. “Therefore, the Open Technology Institute is very pleased to see members of Congress working to shut these NSA “backdoors” that threaten the security of the Internet, and to ensure that instead of hacking into our data, the NSA has to come through companies’ front doors with appropriate legal process.”
“The NSA shouldn’t be able to get backdoor access to our laptops or cellphones or email accounts or social network profiles—and neither should it be able to get backdoor access to Americans’ data using surveillance authorities that are supposed to be targeted at people outside the United States,” according to Robyn Greene, OTI policy counsel specializing in surveillance issues. “That’s why the Open Technology Institute supports the amendment to close the “backdoor search loophole” and require the NSA to get a search warrant before searching Americans’ private communications. That same reform was in the original version of the USA FREEDOM Act, before it was watered down in secret negotiations with the intelligence community, and we appreciate the amendment sponsors’ willingness to keep fighting for this critical privacy protection.”
The full text of the letter is available here.