House Lawmakers Draft Amendment To Kill The NSA's Warrantless Collection Of Your Data

The National Security Agency (NSA) has a program in place called Upstream that taps directly into the Internet backbone to search traffic. The agency has claimed in the past that the warrantless searches of email are allowed under Section 702 enacted as part of the FISA Amendments Act. The agency made changes in 2017 to stop collecting communications of U.S. persons who aren't in direct contact with a foreign intelligence target. However, a pair of House lawmakers are pushing for an amendment that would defund the massive data collection operation run by the NSA unless the government promises not to collect data on Americans.

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The bipartisan amendment is very short spanning just 15 lines. It would require the government to not knowingly collect communications such as email, messages, and browsing data of Americans without a warrant. The amendment is proposed by Reps Zoe Lofgren (D-CA, 19th) and Justin Amash (R-MI, 3rd). The draft amendment has the backing of some civil liberties groups including the ACLU, EFF, FreedomWorks, New America, and the Sunlight Foundation. Major tech firms also support the draft amendment, including Apple, Facebook, Google, and Microsoft.

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The current statute allows the NSA to use Section 702 powers to collect and store communications of foreign targets located outside the U.S. using taps into the fiber cables owner and operated by telecommunications firms in the States. The issue is that these taps also gather information that Americans are sending that is protected under the Fourth Amendment. No hard numbers have been offered for the number of Americans who have their data collected under the NSA program.

Section 702 was reauthorized in 2018 with little change despite concerns raised by lawmakers. The draft amendment seeks specifically to force the government to not engage in "about collection," which is the practice of collecting data that merely mentions a foreign intelligence target. The government says that it ended this practice in 2017, but has claimed the right to restart it. The NSA was in the news earlier this month when it warned users to patch legacy Windows operating systems to block the BlueKeep security exploit. In March, the NSA released the Ghidra open source cybersecurity toolkit.