Whooooooooops Your Reform Bill!

[Content Note: Surveillance.]

I haven't been giving a whole lot of attention to the NSA reform bill making its way through the US congress, because I figured that it would be watered-down garbage by the time it came to a vote, and welp:
A landmark surveillance bill, likely to pass the US House of Representatives on Thursday, is [losing] support from the civil libertarians and privacy advocates who were its champions from the start.

Major revisions to the USA Freedom Act have stripped away privacy protections and transparency requirements while expanding the potential pool of data the National Security Agency can collect, all in a bill cast as banning bulk collection of domestic phone records. As the bill nears a vote on the House floor, expected Thursday, there has been a wave of denunciations.

"It does not deserve the name 'USA Freedom Act' any more than the 'Patriot Act' merits its moniker," wrote four former NSA whistleblowers and their old ally on the House intelligence committee staff.

The former NSA officials – Thomas Drake, William Binney, Edward Loomis and J Kirk Wiebe – and former congressional staffer Diane Roark denounced 11th-hour changes to the Freedom Act as resulting in "a very weak" bill.

"Much legislation has been exploited and interpreted by the administration as permitting activities that Congress never intended," they wrote in a letter Wednesday to Representative Zoe Lofgren, a California Democrat.

Lofgren told the Guardian last week that she intended to offer amendments to the Freedom Act, which cleared the House intelligence and judiciary committees two weeks ago, adding encryption protections and providing greater leeway to companies seeking to disclose surveillance orders for their customers' data.

But Lofgren warned on the House floor Wednesday that none of her amendments were put into order by the powerful House rules committee, which released a new version of the Freedom Act on Tuesday night that reflected substantial changes made at the insistence of the Obama administration, the NSA and the office of the director of national intelligence.

Most significantly, the version emerging from the rules committee expanded the definition of a "specific selection term," the root thing – formerly defined as information that "uniquely describe[s] a person, entity, or account" – the government must present to a judge, with suspicion of connection of terrorism or espionage, in order to collect data under the bill.

The new definition is "a discrete term, such as" a person, entity, account, "address or device". That revision has spurred privacy advocates and even major technology companies to doubt that the bill will actually ban the mass collection of Americans' data, its ostensible purpose.
This bill has bipartisan support, about which the the White House office of management and budget is proudly bragging, and almost nothing says "garbage legislation" these days than bipartisan support of two parties who can't agree on the color of the sky.

As I've said many times before: Once the government gets empowered to encroach on citizens' civil rights with impunity, they are very unlikely to ever give that power back.

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