back to article Congress passes crackdown on NSA surveillance

The US House of Representatives has passed a measure aimed at limiting the NSA's ability to access personal data and conduct surveillance. The House on Thursday voted to approve an amendment to the 2015 Department of Defense Appropriations Act (H.R. 4870) seeking to prevent warrantless collection of data from government …

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Black Helicopters

I am delighted to see this...

And that the amendment passed by such a large margin.

However, let's see A) if the amendment actually survives in the final appropriation bill that gets out of the House, and B) if it then survives the Senate and C) any conference committee that might be involved, and then D) if the President signs it.

The military/intelligence complex has lots of powerful friends in Congress and the administration, and they will be gunning to kill these restrictions. Plus there may very well be a lot of opportunism from Congresspeople who are happy to preen about how strongly they back this amendment preserving good ol' American freedom (but they aren't too upset that it is not in the final appropriation, which they are even more happy to vote for)

In short, get the appropriation containing these restrictions signed into law, and then we will be getting somewhere.

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Re: I am delighted to see this...

And this highlights everything wrong with modern congresses and parliaments: Let's not repeal the bit that causes the havoc. Let's just cut the funding for the short-term, until the shit-storm calms down and no one will notice the restoration of funding at a later date.

With all due respect to those who choose to serve in the military, this is precisely what it really means when people say that freedom isn't free.

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... and E)

whether the NSA really give a shit what others think and say.

The NSA of today have got to be what the KGB of 30 years ago was - a law unto themselves and outside any oversight.

They don't care what the prez tells them. They most likely spy on him. As far as the NSA is concerned, you're either part of the NSA or you're the enemy. All congress people, presidents, Fedex delivery people etc are the enemy.

As a result, they will keep doing what they damn well like.

It would seem the only people that could actually get them under control would be the people supplying utilities. Shut off water and leccy to their data centres and they could not function.

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Anonymous Coward

Re: ... and E)

The NSA of today have got to be what the KGB of 30 years ago was - a law unto themselves and outside any oversight.

I think you are mistaken. The right formulation is: The NSA of today have got to be what the FBI of 50 years ago was - a law unto themselves and outside any oversight.

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Re: ... and E) -- @Charles Manning

'They don't care what the prez tells them.'

Right. The only way to make this even reasonably watertight is to enact laws to ensure the Nuremberg defence cannot be used no matter who is responsible—'following orders' would be no excuse irrespective of who (or whatever authority) gives the orders.

Laws with substantial penalties that directly put the onus on both organizations and individuals not to act in certain ways—whether they be public or private entities, public sector employees or individuals would be necessary. Thus, anyone breaking such laws would always be under the threat that a whistleblower (a la Edward Snowden) could easily land them behind bars.

Of course, Hell's likely to freeze over first. Even outside secret organisations such as the NSA, GCHQ etc. governments have been long averse to passing laws that make individuals directly responsible whether they are public sector employees or those employed by corporations ('tis why we've so many badly behaved corporations—employees are mostly immune from prosecution, e.g.: witness the global financial crisis and how so few are actually behind bars).

Another essential rider would have to be that the laws would apply no matter where the crime was committed thus negating any Guantanamo/rendition—type 'escapes'.

Don't hold your breath, nothing much will change except Government PR/BS.

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Re: I am delighted to see this... @ Preston Munchensonton

'And this highlights everything wrong with modern' [democracy].

Is there anything really wrong with modern democracy or rather is it just our [the common] perception of it?

In my other post cynicism reigns. But why? Well, the reality of modern democracy is nothing like I was taught at school, and years later I'm still struggling to get used to the fact! In practice, all that stuff from Plato to Rousseau and later is balderdash. Perhaps we should blame our teachers for indoctrinating us with fairy stories.

Seems to me that if we were told the truth then we'd be better equipped to manage the power-hungry. But Catch-22, why would they tell us the truth? Clearly, telling fairy stories to the citizenry ensures it remains docile.

I too have great respect for those who serve in the military; tragically, the fairy stories damage them the most (ask most veterans).

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Anonymous Coward

Re: ... and E)

They don't care what the prez tells them.

Sure they do. hasn't "the prez" (Barack Obama) enthusiastically supported the NSA's activities, hmm? In every public statement, Obama has supported all of the NSA's snooping. Check it out, he authorized it by Executive Order.

Or is it your point that Obama has no control over the NSA? In that case, why doesn't Obama just fire James Clapper, the head of the NSA?

The Washington Post has been urging Obama to do just that, as the NSA is a division of the Executive Branch.

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Anonymous Coward

@Marketing Hack

Of course Obama will sign it but he will say it is advisory. He is not the one who started saying bills were advisory but he seems to do it more than any previous President has.

Or he will just ignore it. Like he did when he released the five terrorist from Gitmo for someone who walked of his post. The funny thing is, under the law he only had to notify Congress, not ask their permission.

I guess you haven't followed the latest IRS nonsense. They can't find some e-mails because a hard drive was destroyed. Yeah right. He will just ignore the law and let his minions give Congress and the people of the United States B.S. answers.

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Re: @Marketing Hack

>They can't find some e-mails because a hard drive was destroyed.

Presumably this is where an all-seeing National Security Agency that even spies on the government could come in handy?

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Re: ... and E)

There is no evidence at all for this claim. At the worst one might argue thatt the NSA is part of a conspiracy with, in addition, the Secretary of Defense, the Attorney General, a quite a few federal judges, the intelligence committees of both the Senate and the House of Representatives, and a large number of military and civilian employees in the Executive and Legislative branches of the federal government. All of them are in it up to their necks, whatever "it" might actually be.

One reasonably certain thing about the DoD appropriation bill is that the President will sign whatever the Congress finally agrees on, whether it contains this amendment, a weaker/stronger version, or none at all.

Another fairly certain thing about it is that it won't get much in the way of anything anyone in the above conspiracy thinks essential, especially with the exceptions of paragraph b and the CALEA exception in paragraph d.

(The text can be found by searching H5544 in

https://beta.congress.gov/amendment/113th-congress/house-amendment/935/text)

My conclusion is that the numerous representatives voting for it probably in many cases had a pretty good idea of the state of government electronic surveillance, and should have if they did not, now sense it is unpopular and are currying favor with the voters back home. And the EFF and similar organizations are appropriately happy to have a little something to write up in their donation appeals.

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Re: ... and E) -- @Charles Manning

The main problem with this, of course, is that the NSA, with exceptions that are minor in relation to the overall programs it operates, is not breaking the law. It is a perfectly tenable position to argue that the law should be held unconstitutional, but it has not. It also is perfectly tenable to argue that even if the law is not held unconstitutional (and that appears possible) it should be changed to agree better with what we think the law should be, perhaps on the basis that the programs now in operation are unnecessarily intrusive and have not, after somewhere between 10 and 75 years, shown that they have benefits consistent with their costs. The Constitution limits what the government may do, but there is no requirement that the laws permit everything within those limits.

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Anonymous Coward

Re: @Marketing Hack

"">They can't find some e-mails because a hard drive was destroyed."

Presumably this is where an all-seeing National Security Agency that even spies on the government could come in handy?""

I'm personally surprised they haven't taken a shot at rebranding:

"Yeah, so we're the National Server Archive now. What, domestic surveillance? No, no you got the wrong end of the stick pal."

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Thumb Down

Re: I am delighted to see this...

The Congress controls the purse strings - it doesn't need Obama's signature to cut funding.

The NSA is funded through defence budget, using a lot of hidden lines of budget items, so even now it might not work.

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Re: I am delighted to see this...

It needs Obama to sign the appropriation for it to become law, so while Congress can insert or remove language, it doesn't have force of law until the President signs it (or the President vetoes it and 2/3 of each of the House and Senate vote to override him, but I don't think there has be an override of a Presidential veto for 30-40 years.)

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Childcatcher

Re: I am delighted to see this...

I read somewhere there is no chance of this amendment passing or getting by the Senate. That may be one of the reasons it attracted so many votes: all bollocks.

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Coat

Re: I am delighted to see this...

I love El Reg, I've been coming here for years, and probably will keep doing so.

However, I have to accept the truth..

http://xkcd.com/1385/

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Thumb Up

Re: I am delighted to see this...

As am I.

Now, maybe we can get something done about the USA PATRIOT Act...like getting it repealed.

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Black Helicopters

Re: ... and E)

Shutting off the water and electricity won't work. They must surely have some contingency plans in place. They are paranoid, after all. The only way the NSA will be reigned in is if some Enlightened Country's Air Force bombs every NSA facility on Earth back to the stone age.

Gotta run, I hear the black helicopters comin'...

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Oh goodie.. now we're all safe

Even if it passes the full appropriation process what it will really stop? Black ops places are very good at hiding what they're really doing.

Oh.. I just read the amendment... all it does stop a government employee from querying the database of collected foreign intelligence information. Ah... business as usual... get those contractors busy so no one gets in real trouble.

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Holmes

Re: Oh goodie.. now we're all safe

"... get those contractors busy so no one gets in real trouble".

Oh, like Edward Snowden? Yeh, no one got into trouble over that then.

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Re: Oh goodie.. now we're all safe

Trouble ? Indeed they didn't. At least, only Snowden. None of the actual perps of the offence have been touched.

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Trollface

Putting a caution on the NSA secret budget

It makes about as much sense as putting a dog collar on the pig to keep it from rooting around in the potato patch.

(Maybe it makes sense to the swineherders ... ?)

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Joke

So they are not saying That is bad, you can't do that.

They are saying you can't pay for it from this budget.

Have another budget, maybe some creative accounting, a little black money, knock your self out.

I have to wonder if they were even paying for the current snooping from that budget, or is this a total sham.

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Unhappy

A *very* small step on a very long road.

9/11/01 was 13 years ago.

Oh look the USA has not imploded under hordes of jihadists.

What a surprise.

Now let's see if they have the courage to let the "sunset" provisions in THE PATRIOT act expire without renewing them.

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Re: A *very* small step on a very long road.

9/11 did a lot more damage to the national ego than it actually did to the country.

In terms of death toll, the 9/11 attack killed roughly as many people as die in road accidents every month in the US. Think about that: Every month, the US is hit by another 9/11 in the form of avoidable accidents. No-one cares. It's hard to see how terrorists could out-do 9/11 unless they managed to get their hands on a nuclear bomb somehow.

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Re: A *very* small step on a very long road.

^^^thank you for posting this.

9/11 did far less damage to the US than the legislative reaction to it did. In the aftermath of 9/11, the security and law enforcement agencies reacted quickly...to get everything they'd ever wished for enshrined in the USA PATRIOT Act. The great thing about the US, used to be that there were limits on police power. No more...the excuse for any overreaction is "It's all different after 9/11".

The 9/11 terrorists got exactly what they wanted...a US afraid of its own shadow, and seeing terrorists under every bed. The best way to fight these people is to refuse to be terrorized, while taking prudent measures to catch them.

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Hopeful

It's a very small start I suppose. It that might show the NSA and politicians that they are supposed to be serving the populace and not going about their own agenda for their own ends.

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Trollface

Sheeple'd again?

Meanwhile, where it counts:

The federal court overseeing the country’s spy agencies renewed an order Friday allowing the National Security Agency to collect phone records of people in the United States [which of course is exactly the thing the NSA does not have a mandate to do in the first place]

The Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court’s renewal of the contested program, authorized under Section 215 of the Patriot Act, comes as lawmakers continue to debate reform legislation.

“Given that legislation has not yet been enacted, and given the importance of maintaining the capabilities of the Section 215 telephony metadata program, the government has sought a 90-day reauthorization of the existing program,” the Justice Department and Office of the Director of National Intelligence (ODNI) said in a joint statement.

....

The House last month passed the USA Freedom Act to end the phone records program, but that bill is still working its way through the Senate. Multiple reform advocates have worried that it does not go far enough.

The bill would end the NSA program and require government agents to get a court order before searching private phone companies’ storehouses of phone records, a move endorsed by President Obama earlier this year.

100% of housewives agree that "Endorsed by President Obama"™ is even better than being "Endorsed by Spokesman Buttblugg"

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Re: Sheeple'd again?

I'd like a warrant to tap phones looking for terrorists Mr Judge

Where does it apply and for how long.

Everywhere in the world for the next 1000years.

Approved - stamp

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Rol
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"Hello, Google? Yes, I'd like some advice, please"

"Sure sir, how can we help?"

"Well, you know how you manage to operate all over the world, and like, not be accountable in any of those jurisdictions"

"Err, yes"

"Well, I was wondering if you could send some of your guys over to us at the NSA to help us achieve the same status"

"For you sir, anything, we'll have Bob, Charlie and Dave visit you tomorrow, where should they report to?"

"That's OK, Bob knows the way"

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Re: "Hello, Google? Yes, I'd like some advice, please"

Don't forget Alice

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Joke

Don't forget Alice

Who the fuck is Alice?

24 years living next door to the spy called Alice!

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Joke

Re: Don't forget Alice

Well yeah, mate, if the big limousine (I'm sure it was *black*, with tinted windows) didn't clue you in...

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Anonymous Coward

Re: Don't forget Alice

Yup, 24 years ago I used to watch Alice sashay out to her black limo, and think "mmmm"

Nowadays I see her and think "M"

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empty gesture

the NSA budget is contained in intentionally innumerable pockets by design and filled from many sources both acknowledged and otherwise. all the pockets are interconnected. add to this the presumption that at least one pocket is designated just for wasting money in case another pocket gets emptied and you have quite the Whack-A-Mole™ situation.

any attempted containment of NSA, CIA, FBI or any other "black box" organization is pretty much doomed to failure. appoint an actual "outside the organizations" watchdog and they will be ineffective because they don't know how that type of organization works. appoint an ex-insider because they know enough to be effective and they probably won't want to upset their former bosses and underlings or expose their own complicity in similar activities.

the only meaningful gesture at this point would be a huge middle finger to all of them and only if followed by tearing down and rebuilding all of these organizations from the ground up.

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Re: empty gesture against radical enlightenment

the NSA budget is contained in intentionally innumerable pockets by design and filled from many sources both acknowledged and otherwise. all the pockets are interconnected. add to this the presumption that at least one pocket is designated just for wasting money in case another pocket gets emptied and you have quite the Whack-A-Mole™ situation.

any attempted containment of NSA, CIA, FBI or any other "black box" organization is pretty much doomed to failure. appoint an actual "outside the organizations" watchdog and they will be ineffective because they don't know how that type of organization works. appoint an ex-insider because they know enough to be effective and they probably won't want to upset their former bosses and underlings or expose their own complicity in similar activities.

the only meaningful gesture at this point would be a huge middle finger to all of them and only if followed by tearing down and rebuilding all of these organizations from the ground up. ... willi0000000

Amen to the eminently sensible and entirely rational analysis of that particular and peculiar empty gesture, which fools no one with even just a titter of wit, willi0000000. And how very informative that politicians think it a smart move which is going to do anything positive.

Stupid is as stupid does, and Intelligence runs rings around puppets and muppets wherever they be nesting and resting and hiding and cowering in plain sight and pushing buttons and pulling leverage on reliably dumb media. Things are though more than just a tad different nowadays, as I'd be quite amazed to discover more and more are not quickly becoming very aware of and sublimely engaged with.

Smarter is as smarter does.

And there is a certain idiotic madness and definite certifiable arrogance in the thinking that equates power is invested in the adjusting of budgets and is in any way going to control orders of fundamental change.

Capiche, El Regers? Agree, Amigos?

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Re: empty gesture

"the NSA budget is contained in intentionally innumerable pockets by design and filled from many sources both acknowledged and otherwise. all the pockets are interconnected. add to this the presumption that at least one pocket is designated just for wasting money in case another pocket gets emptied and you have quite the Whack-A-Mole™ situation."

<snip>

There are a huge amount of American charitable foundations that are cut outs for various agencies, Their disbursements make interesting reading.

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Re: empty gesture

"...and only if followed by tearing down and rebuilding all of these organizations from the ground up."

Didn't one John F. Kennedy once try something along those lines...?

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Anonymous Coward

So, if I read this right..

The amendment, put forward by Thomas Massie (R-KY) as well as Zoe Lofgren (D-CA) and Jim Sensenbrenner (R-WI) would declare that that no funds in the budget could be used for controversial 'Section 702' mass data collection under the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act and would prevent government agencies from forcing individuals and companies to equip products with 'backdoor' mechanisms for surveillance.

As far as I can see, they haven't actually banned the practice or made anyone hang for this, they turned it into an accounting exercise. It gets some people credit for pretending they care, but in reality all that changes is that money is channeled in a different way. Cynical, but probably effective.

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Big Brother

" shutting the back door on mass surveillance"

And what about the front door? And the windows? And the skylight? And then there's the route through the basement and...

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FAIL

"The US House of Representatives has passed a measure aimed at limiting the NSA's ability to access personal data and conduct surveillance."

We already have the Fourth Amendment to the US Constitution. Support it. Enforce it. Arrest/impeach those who don't protect and defend that law.

There is no 'wiggle room'. Metadata is private information. Everything you create with software and hardware is private. The Fourth Amendment does not require interpretation or explanation.

Apparently, simple and sane isn't good enough for #MyStupidGovernment. Have your fun with strangling money. It's better than just sitting around hiding your heads up your…

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Flash Cash Crashing Systems Operators ...... Working for You or Against You ....

... and Benefitting Themselves Every Which Way, Either Way?

If it is the case in Blighty that there ISN'T effective blanket communications surveillance/phishing/phorming on any and all who/which may be able and/or enabled to enact virtual decisions which create physical hardships and escalate difficulties for many [million/billion] others, ...... and you may like to include the likes of Bank of England rate fixers, retiring dodgy dossier dodging judges and in camera national security secrecy advocates and aspirational ministerially conditioned and positioning career parliamentarians and faltering flatulent media organisations with Broad Banded Communications and the wholly delusional and fundamentally psychotic and even beautifully insane and the quite clever wannabe king and queen and president and prime minister and emperor of domains of the past types, with no present in the future and no future in the present which servers on their watch the toxicity of austerity to all but a chosen few desperately patching in vainglorious ignorance and monosyllabic technicolour servers bringing systems down ......... then are your present and incumbent services titanically failing you and reliant systems, and they be totally unfit for and self excluded from Current Cyber Command and Control Centre Consideration in the Exercise and Direction/Promotion and Production of Future Novel Great Game Plays ....... which be also Quite Magically Conceived Creations of Immaculately Resourced Proprietary Intellectual Property for Global Operating Devices with Virtual Machine Savvy ......Sublime Networks InterNetworking JOINT Applications Sublimely in Secret NINJA Systems of Covert and Clandestine Operation on Need to Know AIMission Bases.

And you may like to consider that Global Communications Head Quarters realised just in the nick of time their potentially catastrophic Intelligence Monitoring and Mentoring shortcomings and have secured an ab fab fabless executive solution which successfully failsafe tests and pits operating systems executive admin against failed and failing systems of executive administration. Failing that, can one expect a steady ratcheting increase in even more ignorant dollops of mad conflict and fiscal pain from ..... well, Few Beings Unchosen of Many be They and/or That which Plots the Future, or do you Follow and Believe Media Pictures and their Contrived and Conniving IT Tales or is there AI Quantum Leaping Singularity evidenced there which Morphs Earthed Man and Virtual Machine into Heavenly Alien Being?

Which be AI Thought for Today, today. Have a Nice One, Y'all.

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Silver badge

What about the FBI? Presumably they will still have the right to make the sorts of demands for back doors currently being made by the NSA?

And if for the sake of argument the FBI - or any other TLA agency - do make such demands then what will be done to stop said back doors from making their way into the hands of the NSA?

It's like trying to fight a Hydra - cut off one head and two grow in it's place...

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Anonymous Coward

Alaskans if theres internet today add a click here n there - http://youtu.be/J_T9bzVxIfw fcuk them assh0lez saying Alaska's Russian, them're just bl00dy buzzt4rds and u know whom they're suckin' off/ fcuk, . From MoRuю

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Misleading headline - not "passed by CONGRESS"

This has NOT been "passed by Congress". That requires approval from both the House and the Senate. So far it has passed just the House.

I hope that the Senate approves it too but, as things stand, your headline-writers have allowed their wishes to distort the reality.

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