One Step Forward In Curbing NSA’s Mass Surveillance

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20/06/2014 Karachi:  Today, the United States House of Representatives passed the Massie-Lofgren Amendment stopping its notorious National Security Agency from conducting warrantless surveillance. NSA recently received a lot of criticism after it’s mass surveillance programme, PRISM, was revealed to the public by Edward Snowden who sought asylum in Russia.

With 293 ayes, 123 nays and 1 present  United States House of Representatives has barred the National Security Agency from utilizing funds procured from the Defense Appropriation Bill to conduct warrantless searches.

As the Electronic Frontier Foundation stated, “Currently, the NSA collects emails, browsing and chat history under Section 702 of the FISA Amendments Act, and searches this information without a warrant for the communications of Americans—a practice known as “backdoor searches.” The amendment would block the NSA from using any of its funding from this Defense Appropriations Bill to conduct such warrantless searches. In addition, the amendment would prohibit the NSA from using its budget to mandate or request that private companies and organizations add backdoors to the encryption standards that are meant to keep you safe on the web.”

Previously, If any agency entrusted with security felt it was imperative to conduct surveillance in the interest of national security, a warrant had to be obtained by the FISA Court. However, Former President George Bush enacted Section 702 of the Foreign Intelligence and Surveillance Act, which gave legal validity to the NSA conducting searches and storing information such as chat history, video call logs and other real time data without obtaining a warrant which was a clear breach of the constitutional right to privacy.

Furthermore, the NSA was also pressurizing various corporate outfits to install “backdoors” within their system codes from where the NSA could gain access. This resulted in a lot of criticism of American technology companies such as Google, Microsoft, Skype and Yahoo whose data centers are in the US and fall under US law.  The respective companies had also filed a lawsuit in response to revelations that the NSA was hacking into their servers. The essence of the amendment lies in the fact that the NSA will now not have the resources to pressure corporations to install backdoors nor will they have the authority to conduct these activities themselves.

The Massie-Lofgren Amendment is a welcome move by the US House of Representatives towards dismantling the corporate, government nexus and ensuring that the Fourth Amendment of the United States Constitution is not breached. Bolo Bhi strongly supports this amendment and hopes that it shall also successfully make its way through the US Senate as it significantly prevents the NSA from carrying out unconstitutional and invasive acts of mass surveillance. This is a step in the direction towards dismantling NSA’s excessive powers and curb mass surveillance of American and foreign citizens.

Email: Osman Ali Ansari osman@bolobhi.org 0334-3540737

Bolo Bhi means ‘Speak up’, in Urdu. We are a not-for-profit geared towards advocacy, policy and research in the areas of gender rights, government transparency, legislation, Internet freedom, digital security, privacy and empowerment. We, at Bolo Bhi, believe it is crucial to bridge the gap between rights advocates, policy makers, media and citizens. It is by bridging this gap that one can move ahead to chart a way forward and resolve issues through consensus, in a way that is mutually beneficial.

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