House lawmakers are attempting to revive a popular bill that would limit the National Security Agency’s ability to spy on Americans’ communications data, a day after the measure was left out from ongoing government funding negotiations.
The measure, dubbed the Secure Data Act and spearheaded by Democratic Rep. Zoe Lofgren, would block the NSA and other intelligence agencies from compelling tech companies to create so-called backdoor vulnerabilities into their devices or software. Sen. Ron Wyden, also a Democrat, introduced a similar version of the bill earlier Thursday.
A Lofgren aide said the bill is expected to be introduced later Thursday with Republican cosponsors.
A broader form of the legislation overwhelmingly passed the House in June with bipartisan support on a 293-123 vote, in the form of an amendment tacked on to a defense appropriations bill. That previous bill additionally would have prevented intelligence agencies from engaging in content surveillance of Americans’ communications data without a warrant.
But the language was left out of ongoing negotiations between both chambers over a spending package that would fund most government agencies into next year. The House has additionally barred amendments to that omnibus measure, a common practice.
On Thursday, 30 civil-liberties groups of both liberal and conservative leanings wrote to House leadership to urge it to retain the proposal as part of its funding package.
“Failing to include this amendment in the forthcoming FY15 omnibus will send a clear message to Americans that Congress does not care if the NSA searches their stored communications or if the government pressures American technology companies to build vulnerabilities into their products that assist in NSA surveillance,” read the letter, whose signatories include the Electronic Frontier Foundation and TechFreedom.
Despite the sudden push and the margin with which the bill passed this summer, it remains unlikely the bill will move forward in lame-duck session, given the closed amendment process on the funding proposals. Aides to both Lofgren and Wyden conceded the reintroduction was largely to set goalposts for negotiations next year.
Broader NSA reform efforts crumbled in the Senate last month, as the USA Freedom Act came up two votes short of advancing. The lack of NSA reform this year has many privacy advocates worried that their cause faces an uphill battle in 2015, as Republicans retake the Senate.
Key portions of the post-9/11 Patriot Act are due to expire in June of next year, however, including Section 215, which grants the government much of its bulk spying authority. Congress will have to reauthorize the provisions in some fashion or risk losing even greater surveillance authority.