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When people from all over the world came out to protest NSA spying, they wanted action taken. The US Congress and the White House have been working on bills to end NSA data collection. People want better privacy, but these new bills could actually result in more NSA spying.
The Two Bills Encourage More NSA Spying
The US has come to distrust the words of Representative Mike Rogers. His new House NSA bill, sponsored by Representative Dutch Ruppersberger, is meant to end mass NSA phone data collection. But it of course doesn’t mean what he says it does. Obama also has a proposal, which is better, but not by much. The bills have been analyzed and the convoluted language translated to reveal that the bills could actually encourage more NSA spying than before.
The two bills were leaked this week, and privacy advocates jumped on them immediately. The first comment to emerge from the analysis of the bills is on the wording. The bills are both written in such twisted language that only great scrutiny would reveal their true purpose. On the surface, the bills are being presented as proposals to put a stop to mass data collection, particularly of American citizens’ phone records. But a close look reveal that the bills could actually end up legalizing more NSA spying.
The House End Bulk Collection Act
Rogers’ House bill is understandably worse than Obama’s. Rogers has always strongly supported more NSA spying. He is also well known for making up stories and twisting the truth whenever he sees fit. He has applied these tactics to defend so-called House Intelligence Committee oversight. And he has also employed the same regarding Edward Snowden in his attempts to discredit all claims made by the whistleblower. So when analyzed, it is not surprising that the House bill, ironically called the End Bulk Collection Act, pretty much allows more NSA spying. The bill does aim to stop bulk data collection, but it also aims to allow more NSA spying on consumer data that is held by telecommunications companies. This means that, yes, your phone company and not the NSA will store your data. But, more NSA spying comes in because the government is allowed to search all that data. There are limitations to allowed government searches of consumer data, of course. But, again, the language translates to pretty much anyone who can somehow be connected to someone who is suspected of being connected to a foreign “power”.
I don’t know about you, but there isn’t anyone I know to whom this cannot be applied. For instance, when I go to my father’s embassy to get some information from the consul, I become associated with a known agent of a foreign government, or power. And Bob’s your uncle. And judging by the way intelligence agencies have behaved in the past, there’s no telling who they might consider to be a terror suspect.
If that’s not enough, further analysis of the bill revealed more NSA spying powers. With the new bill, any requests to search phone company data would not need approval from any court. This clearly means that more NSA spying will be going on. The government will not need any permission from a judge, and can search the data of any consumer within two hops of a suspect. And again, the use of the wording foreign “power” in the bill expands the range of meaning. More NSA spying can happen on more US citizens’ data because more people can be identified as being associated with these foreign power agents that they are targeting.
Sadly, the End Bulk Collection Act passed in the House with a vote of 303-121. The bill was widely considered to be faulty and watered down to appease the NSA. But Congress favored it nonetheless.
The White House Bill
Obama’s proposal in contrast does not demand that telecommunications companies retain consumer data. It also does not reword the law that refers to data searches related to terror suspects. It also says that any more NSA spying must still be approved by the court, with a judge ruling on each data request. But there is a big problem that has been identified by privacy analysts. This, the White House bill, does not do anything about stopping more NSA spying on citizens’ financial records or on the hotter issue of Internet data. Privacy advocates also complain that Obama’s bill is not clear on what the NSA will be allowed to do with the consumer data that they get their hands on.
For both bills, the NSA two-hops issue is still a sore one. Previous NSA spying activities gathered data three hops away from a suspect. This caused millions of innocent people to be dragged through the mud. And searching two hops away is still very dangerous. The NSA of course defended their actions by saying that the data they collected was only for monitoring purposes. The problem is that they kept this data and can access it at any time. They therefore can bypass the rules that a judge needs to approve. This is completely separate from the particular case where they were allowed to search the data. So, they can analyze your data again without approval for any other case they choose. The FISA court does not even check this NSA database to see whether the data has been searched outside of the approved investigation.
To sum it all up, neither bill really aims to end bulk data collection. It really wouldn’t be that hard to do. The point is that it clearly seems that neither Congress nor The White House actually wants to.