In a surprise Thursday night vote, the House of Representatives passed a bill to cut National Security Agency funding for “backdoor” warrantless searches of U.S. communications.
Adopted by an landslide vote of 293-123, the bill amends the 2015 Defense Appropriations Bill and places limits on agency access to communications, including email, online browsing and chat histories, and prevents it from using its budget to compel companies and organizations to add backdoors to encryption products and standards.
The signals intelligence agency’s backdoor surveillance efforts were revealed in classified intelligence documents leaked by former agency contractor Edward Snowden last year. Representatives Zoe Lofgren, Democrat of California and Thomas Massie, Republican of Kentucky led the bill, which now faces passage in the Senate.
“Tonight, the House of Representatives took an important first step in reining in the NSA,” Electronic Frontier Foundation attorney Mark Rumold said. “We applaud the House for taking this important first step, and we look forward to other elected officials standing up for our right to privacy.”
The bill’s passage marks a significant step away from the “gutted” NSA surveillance reform bill passed in the House last month, which faces a similar threat of losing its teeth in the Senate.
“Tonight’s overwhelming vote to rein in the NSA’s backdoor access to Americans’ data signals widespread discontent amongst House members over how the U.S.A. FREEDOM Act was watered down by the House leadership in secret negotiations with the intelligence community, and is a strong signal that the Senate must act to restore the reforms that were cut out of the bill,” Open Technology Institute policy director Kevin S. Bankston said in an email.
According to Bankston, the bill’s passage is “a heartening sign that Congress has finally recognized how the NSA’s programs pose a threat to internet security that warrants more than just reform of our surveillance laws.”
Bankston said the Senate should heed the House’s message: “The government should focus less on surveilling the Internet to protect it, and more on hardening its technical security against surveillance — whether by governments, cyber-criminals, or anyone else.”