Flawed NSA Data Reform Encourages Privacy Tool Use

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Alvin Bryan

Alvin Bryan is a freelance writer and online privacy enthusiast enthusiast currently contributing quality tips and troubleshooting on personal VPN services, and online privacy and security news. You can also find him on Google +.

House NSA Data ReformPrivacy and civil rights groups have been criticizing the NSA data reform bill of the US Congress. The bill was supposed to put a stop to mass surveillance, yet it appears to do the opposite. And related legislation on top of this bill could actually allow NSA spying to become even more invasive. These efforts seem only to paint a clearer picture of how the government is really trying to allow spying to continue despite any passed NSA data reforms. It serves as increased motivation for people to use privacy tools to protect their phone and Internet data.

NSA Data Reform So Far

People in the US have been using privacy tools for phone and Internet security since the press’ first stories about PRISM. The use of privacy tools increased as the intricacies of NSA mass data collection were explained. There are now also better tools and practices that are designed to help people evade this type of invasive spying. Disposable phone numbers have become more popular and more readily available. VPN services for Internet anonymity have reported record signups. And regular Internet users are learning how to use local data encryption tools.

NSA Data ReformIn March, several civil rights and privacy groups reviewed the NSA data reform proposals of the White House and the House Intelligence Committee. Among these groups are the American Civil Liberties Union and the Electronic Frontier Foundation. Criticism centered on both billsfailure to address the core concern of the people. NSA data reform was demanded because of the severe violations to American rights committed by the agency.

Jameel Jaffer of the ACLU challenged Congress to address the privacy issues connected with Section 215 of the Patriot Act. And after more and stronger protests, the House also agreed to take into consideration provisions for American rights as laid down in the USA Freedom Act. They then agreed to make changes to the USA Freedom Act to support incoming legislation for NSA data reform.

Congress has made it very clear that they want to stop the NSA from collecting Americans’ phone data. The ACLU and other groups have also pushed for this to apply to mass spying on Internet data as well. The USA Freedom Act is a testament to Congress’ intentions. But last week, the amendments proposed for the USA Freedom Act were found to be dangerously flawed. The changes work to undermine the protection power that the Act provides for citizens. The NSA data reform that we are looking forward to is a strict end to mass data collection. The proposed amendments make a way for the NSA to continue spying.

FISA Act Section 702

NSA Data Reform EFFWe are now presented with yet another loophole that could render NSA data reform ineffective. Section 702 of the FISA Act provides another loophole. With this, the government can work around any NSA data reform that can be achieved through the above combined legislation. The EFF is now calling on Congress to take an uncompromising stand. They must commit to fight for genuine NSA data reform to truly put an end to insidious and unconstitutional mass surveillance. As it is now, the bill has been modified to spell out the terms under which Section 215 can be applied. But as the definitions were modified, it created a different ambiguity relating to Section 702 that again opens up the bill to manipulation.

The specifics relating to Section 702 are not sufficiently covered in the House NSA data reform bill. There are references to searches that allow agencies a wide range of surveillance powers. Neglecting to clearly describe this is NSA data reform will allow mass surveillance to continue. For instance, it will allow them to gather up message content. It will also allow them to gather this content on persons who are not even associated with legitimate targets. And it will allow them to search within content that has been collected via illegal means. And it also does not demand that companies report on the data that was requested.

“Specific selection term” is one area of the House bill that was redefined. This term refers to persons and entities that the NSA can conduct legal surveillance on. The definition was extended, but the result was not a clarification that supports ending data collection. It actually expands the definition. This again undermines NSA data reform by creating loopholes in the wording.

NSA Data Reform PrivacyAs more NSA data reform issues keep surfacing, it is likely that more people will turn to privacy tools as their only hope for securing their right to privacy. Many have already lost faith in the possibility of maintaining this right because of the issues above that make it look like the government really doesn’t want to rein in the NSA. The last resort is to take matters into their own hands, securing their right through privacy tools like VPNs and data encryption software.