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On Thursday night last week, Congress effectively banned the NSA from performing phone searches without a warrant. The bill that Congress passed was on defense spending but included an amendment that bore heavily on NSA warrantless communications search practices.
The Loophole for NSA Backdoor Data Searches
The NSA has been allowed by law to freely run searches on the communications records of foreign citizens. Strictly speaking, the NSA is not allowed to conduct such searches on American communications. They need specific warrants to go through these phone data records. But they have been running backdoor data searches because of a loophole in legislation. They use Section 702 of the FISA Amendments Act to do this. Appeals courts have been ruling on specific cases of warrantless searches, but we need firm legislation.
Congress has been harshly criticized for their faulty data reform bill. But for this year’s Defense Appropriations, Congress inserted an amendment that will reel in the agency. The leaders of the Judiciary and Intelligence committees opposed the amendment, but it was passed last week with a landslide vote of 293 to 123. Congress passed the 2015 Defense Appropriations bill, 340 to 73.
The amendment makes backdoor data searches illegal. This means that the NSA cannot demand that telecom companies hand over the phone records of Americans. It also means that the NSA can no longer coerce companies to create a way for backdoor data searches to be conducted. The NSA has made companies modify both the software and hardware components of their products so the NSA could have free access to user data. Now the NSA will not be able to conduct any more electronic backdoor data searches.
The 2015 Defense Appropriations bill with the anti backdoor data searches amendment passed in Congress. It is now up to the Senate to decide whether the amendment will stay or go. Congress has made a brave and clear statement about how they feel the Fourth Amendment should apply to government agencies like the NSA. We hope that the Senate is equally brave and concerned about our privacy rights.