House passes Freedom Act in effort to curb NSA spying, despite withdrawn industry support

House passes Freedom Act in effort to curb NSA spying, despite withdrawn industry support

Summary: The bill was designed to curb NSA surveillance. But many groups have withdrawn their support after it was "watered down." Next stop, the Senate.

SHARE:
upload-hero
(Image via C-SPAN)

The U.S. House today voted to pass the Freedom Act, the decade-after follow-up to the Patriot Act, which first authorized massive global and domestic surveillance in the wake the September 11 terrorist attacks.

With more than 152 co-sponsors, the bill passed by a wide majority of 303-121.

However, the real fight is now in the Senate's hands, which according to congressional sources will aim to counter some of the lobbying effort by the Obama administration by strengthening previously removed provisions.

Rep. Jim Sensenbrenner (R-WI), the bill's author — who also introduced the Patriot Act just weeks after the attacks on New York in 2001 — previously said that the new bill was designed to counter the "misuse" of the original powers by the U.S. government, which "overstepped its authority."

It was passed by the House Judiciary Committee earlier this month after months of stagnation. After the bill was jump-started, it was quickly seen as the most prominent and likely legislative effort to restrict government surveillance since the 2001 attacks.

However, in prepared remarks on Thursday following the bill's passing, Sensenbrenner admitted that he wishes the bill "closely resembled" the bill he first introduced.

"The legislation passed today is a step forward in our efforts to reform the government’s surveillance authorities," he said. "It bans bulk collection, includes important privacy provisions, and sends a clear message to the NSA: We are watching you."

But the wider technology industry and privacy groups took a stronger stance in recent days by pulling their support for the bill.

"What is being considered is not the bill that was marked up by the House Judiciary Committee," Rep. Zoe Lofgren (D-CA) said on the House floor on Wednesday. "Certain key elements of this bill were changed. I think it's ironic that a bill that was intended to increase transparency was secretly changed between the Committee markup and floor consideration," she added.

"What is being considered is not the bill that was marked up by the House Judiciary Committee." — Zoe Lofgren

One of the changes that riled Silicon Valley giants and privacy groups alike was the broad definition of database searching. Under the act as it stands, a search inquiry is allowed if it is a "discrete term," such as a query that would identify a "person, entity, account, address, or device."

Previously, the act limited the searches to a "person, entity, or account," which was seen as more specific and restrictive for intelligence agencies.

According to Ars Technica, which spoke to Kevin Bankston, policy director of the Open Technology Institute, "It's now dangerously broad and vague."

Also, a coalition of the U.S.' largest technology companies, including Google, Microsoft, Twitter, and Facebook, warned that certain definitions in the bill would create an "unacceptable loophole" that could enable the bulk collection of internet users' data.

The coalition said it would not support the Freedom Act as it currently stands.

The Electronic Frontier Foundation said it was "dismayed" by the "gutted" bill, which the privacy group claims does not substantially reform the foreign intelligence gathering statute, known as Section 702, which targets non-U.S. citizens, but has been known to collect American data.

"The new version not only adds the undefined words 'address' and 'device,' but makes the list of potential selection terms open-ended by using the term 'such as'," it added in a statement on Tuesday.

Meanwhile, the Center for Democracy & Technology's chief executive Nuala O'Connor said on Tuesday that: "The bill now offers only mild reform and goes against the overwhelming support for definitively ending bulk collection."

Amnesty International also withdrew its support on Thursday, hours before the bill was debated on the House floor. 

In a statement, the group said: "The bill provides no protection for non-US persons and the provisions designed to protect U.S. persons have been extensively watered down. Significant further reform is necessary in order to ensure the privacy rights of U.S. and non-U.S. persons are respected."

The group also urged the Senate to ensure that the bill is "non-discriminatory," and "subject to judicial and democratic control and oversight," among other recommendations.

The bill will now move to the Senate, despite the eleventh-hour changes to the House bill, where sources suggest it will be pulled apart and initial provisions designed to restore trust in the U.S. intelligence community will be rewritten and added.

Update at 2:30pm ET: with remarks from Congressman Jim Sensenbrenner.

Topics: Security, Government US, Legal, Privacy

Kick off your day with ZDNet's daily email newsletter. It's the freshest tech news and opinion, served hot. Get it.

Talkback

27 comments
Log in or register to join the discussion
  • 'Freedom' as double-speak

    1984 has, finally, arrived, if only 20 years late.
    Rabid Howler Monkey
    • Errr, 30 years late :(

      Rabid Howler Monkey
    • Reply to " 'Freedom' as double-speak "

      It's a big can of worms going back to the late 1800s:

      The federal government of the United States of America was usurped by the UNITED STATES OF AMERICA, a corporation, in 1871.

      The Federal Reserve Act of 1913 established the Federal Reserve (which is not Federal nor a Reserve; but it does pay dividends to foreign interests).

      No surprise, the power to tax incomes also established in 1913.

      The United States went "bankrupt" in 1933. [President Roosevelt Executive Order 6073, 6102, 6111, 6260; Senate Report 93-549, pgs. 187 & 594, 1973]

      The people's gold was confiscated, quote fro Wikipedia:

      Executive Order 6102 is a United States presidential executive order signed on April 5, 1933, by President Franklin D. Roosevelt "forbidding the Hoarding of gold coin, gold bullion, and gold certificates within the continental United States".

      Because the defacto government was "bankrupt", it's borrowing had to be backed by something. Notice that current certificates of birth are printed on bank not paper and carry a bond number. Your corporate name i.e. your name and family name in ALL CAPS, attached to the bond, is traded on stock markets, literally.

      And, of course, if a citizen is bonded, the citizen is really just a slave.

      The scenario is not exactly the same in every country. Here, Canada never went bankrupt because it was never solvent to begin with! And the central bank is wholly government owned; but, of course, the government usually borrows from the private banks so the government is in debt to its eyeballs nevertheless.

      Anyway, lots to learn ..
      Singularity Point
      • Tell us about what happened in 1871

        I don't recall reading about any major changes in government that occured in that year.

        Also, the Federal Reserve System is arguably federal, in that it is the only decentralized central banking system in the world (we don't have one central bank, we have twelve) and power is shared between the Board of Governors (appointed by the President) and member banks; and it doesn't pay dividends to foreign interests, but to member banks, all of which are US corporations (but some may be owned by foreigners, like any other US corporation can be). And it's also "federal" in the same sense the German Bundesbank is federal as both are agencies of federal governments.

        With what would you replace it (remembering that there are reasons why nearly every country on the planet has a central bank)? It seems to me that the previous system didn't work all that well, but I could easily be mistaken.
        John L. Ries
        • Reply to "Tell us about what happened in 1871"

          "With what would you replace it ... ?"

          That's a very good question.

          I tend to prefer fiat "real money" verses a gold backed system. Gold can skew things because it can get horded.

          Real money is currency issued with no associated interest bearing debt.

          In a fiat real money system, the Congress / Senate / President would determine overall goals of the gov't. A treasury would issue the money to pay for the government's projects.

          And there'd have to be a arm's length entity - 100 % owned by the people - that would temper the system to prevent inflation, yet ensure there is enough currency in the system to keep the economy vigorous and that people can reach their potentials and goals, and that society overall improves over time.

          The entity would not be a central bank, rather a regulator that would give green and red lights to the treasury to either print money into existence, or tax it out of existence to keep the economy healthy.

          In time taxes would be reduced, yet people would be richer, healthier, and reaching their potentials and goals.

          American money would stay in America, and so on, yet the government would stop being in debt.

          The people in the US might even be able to afford space rockets again.
          Singularity Point
          • So...

            ...the monetary oversight authority would tell the Treasury how much money to put in circulation or withdraw from circulation. Presumably, the money issued would be spent by the federal government after appropriation by Congress (as usual), and the money withdrawn would come from tax revenues. Constitutional authority would be derived from the money clause ("to coin money and regulate the value thereof") and the "necessary and proper" clause. Constitutional fundamentalists wouldn't like it, but the Supreme Court would probably accept it.

            So how do you propose to constitute this authority (composition, manner of appointment, terms of service)?

            I'm not at all certain how feasible the idea is, but it is interesting. Too bad Milton Friedman is no longer available to take the job.
            John L. Ries
          • Reply to "So... "

            Yes.

            My venture would be to have the regulatory entity populated by a small mix of perhaps of former senators / state governors and accredited financial experts who are not biased towards the private banks. There could be elected: some elected by Congress, some elected by the Senate. The President could appoint some members. This way the gov't remains in control to some extent in the creation of money, yet is also at an arm's length, precluding craziness.

            They'd be budgeted so that they could research and determine the economy's health.

            The idea would be to have experienced, responsible people intelligently regulate the creation and destruction of money in the best interests of Americans. I would imagine the terms would be limited to some extent, but perhaps longer than just four years .. five or seven maybe to avoid "popularism" and the revolving door. They'd be allowed no conflict of interest, e.g. allowed to "play" the stock market etc. while working for the regulatory authority.

            They'd be expected to work too. They'd be expected to work together to improve the economic situation in America. They'd organize research and so on. There could be some performance expectation in place.

            They'd have power too. They'd have the power to get a reasonable amount of information out of financial institutions such as banks, government departments and so on, and get the current financial state of corporations.

            And they'd have regular consultation with the President, Congress, the Senate and the Treasury to determine the best courses of action.

            Perhaps there could even be an emergency override on the entity e.g. if the President along with, 80% of Congress and 80% of the Senate and the Treasury all decide to override the entity, it could be done.
            Singularity Point
          • Fed governors are appointed for 14 years (non-renewable)

            That strikes me as being long enough. We tend to lose sight of that since the Chairman and Vice Chairman are appointed for only four years (but they remain governors for the full 14 years, unless they resign).

            It actually seems to me that the fact that the Chairman is designated by the President gives her more power over her colleagues than she should have. It might be better for the Chairman and Vice Charman to be elected by their colleagues instead.

            Under your proposal, I think there would have to be an upper limit on the amount of money that could be created or destroyed in a given year, unless specifically approved by Congress. Of course, Congress would have to appropriate any money created before it could be spent, but it's hard to budget if a large amount of the money the President and Congress thought were available suddenly disappears.

            Nitpick: The US Senate is part of Congress (just as the Canadian Senate is part of Parliament); what you meant was the House of Representatives. But unlike its Canadian counterpart, the US Senate has the additional responsibility of approving judicial and many executive appointments, plus treaties (2/3 vote on the latter); giving it a somewhat higher profile than the House.
            John L. Ries
          • Reply to"Fed governors are appointed for 14 years (non-renewable)"

            LOL The Senate is part of Congress, thanks. Sorry, but I did think Congress referred specifically to the House of Reps.

            "upper limit on the amount of money"

            Yes. At this time, the switch from debt bearing currency to real money can be done on a fake dollar to real dollar basis 1:1. There's still enough value in a dollar and no one would notice. If the government wanted to increase the value of the dollar thereafter, it could cancel some of the currency with tax. There'd be mild deflation; yet, in a real money system, there could still be economic prosperity during a deflation period. Coins would be worth carrying.

            If the switch over occurs during a period of hyper-inflation, dollar for dollar would not work as the "new" dollars would be near worthless themselves. A "new" dollar would have to be issued, distinct in value from the fake dollars; let's call the "new" dollars real dollars. The government would have to decide what the "value" of the economy is and make it's goal to distribute that amount of currency in real dollars, perhaps 1 trillion over one year. If the economy starts and is healthy then it would start regulating. More if the economy still needs a shot, but tax if the economy show signs of needless price inflation.

            The government would issue the real dollars for work done on government projects and as government salaries. Thereafter, the real dollars would spread throughout the economy, and stabilize the economy. The hyper-inflating fake dollars would soon become worthless and could be used in landfills or sent to the paper recyclers. People will prefer the real dollars.

            I would really strongly suggest an arm's length regulatory authority for a few reasons:

            Stability is important. Inflation is akin to theft. Real money keeps its value over time. An arm's length regulating authority would not have to concern itself with vote getting as much. Yet its members would still be appointed by Congress and the President. The make up of the authority would then still reflect, to some degree, the will of the people, yet voting getting would not be their number one priority.

            Perhaps the rules governing the regulating authority could allow Congress and the President some leeway in the printing of money and collecting of taxes. but overall I think the green and red lights should probably be according to the authority. Of course, this isn't in a vacuum. The regulating authority would be strongly mandated to get things going and making things work. It would have the responsibility to help the government achieve its goals in a reasonable and upright manner.

            14 years seems a little long. The regulating authority should be stable, sure, but it's not a private bank, it's no one's personal domain. Perhaps 7 years? Or maybe 10? 10 seems like a good long stretch. The cycles there do not have to match Congress's, perhaps shouldn't.

            There's a good video on YouTube. IMHO, I prefer fiat real money verses gold backed real money. Gold doesn't necessarily represent the true wealth and full robustness of an economy. It's just a metal. It can get hoarded, lost, stolen. And perhaps there's just not enough of it in this day and age to represent the robustness and potential of modern economies. Besides all the gold in Fort Knox might not be there any more. The Federal Reserve has never been audited and we know there's been transfers of gold to European interests.

            Nevertheless the video does a good job explaining how things are working today:

            [The Biggest Scam In The History Of Mankind - Hidden Secrets of Money 4 | Mike Maloney ]

            https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iFDe5kUUyT0

            If you haven't already, you might watch this video as well:

            [Money As Debt full length]

            https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=e6LWqgohO4E

            Have a nice weekend.

            The rich ruleth over the poor, and the borrower is slave to the lender.
            Proverbs 22 : 7
            Singularity Point
          • The reasons why I'd want the long term

            1. To encourage the members of the monetary oversight board (like those of the existing Federal Reserve Board) to take a long term view of the economy (most of the ones serving at any given time will need to think about five years from now because they'll still be on the job five years from now).

            2. To insulate the board members from political pressure. This is also why I think even if the term were less than fourteen years, incumbent board members should still be ineligible for reappointment (so they're focused on the public interest; not placating the President who would make the decision on whether or not to reappoint them, or Senators who would have to vote on such a reappointment).

            3. Regulatory capture prevention. One of the perennial problems of the US regulatory regime is senior managers being recruited from the industries they're suppose to regulating and then returning to them (for considerably more money) when their terms of service are complete. A fourteen year term would mean that a 50-something banker or economist accepting appointment to the board would be close to retirement age when his term was up. The revolving door could be further discouraged by offering civil service pensions to board members who honorably complete their terms (in addition to whatever retirement benefits they'd already earned).

            Election of board members by Congress is a non-starter under the US Constitution as civil officers of the United States (which board members would be considered) must be appointed by the President (with or without the consent of the Senate), a department head, or a court. Under the traditional understanding of that provision, the houses of Congress are only allowed to elect their own officers and members of committees (and delegates to interparliamentary bodies). Accordingly, the board members of the proposed monetary oversight authority would certainly have to be appointed by the President with the advice and consent of the Senate, just as Federal Reserve governors are now.

            One limit on money creation/destruction that could work would be a fixed percentage of the previous year's federal revenue (probably somewhere between 1 and 5 percent). The authority would be allowed to exceed that limit only with the consent of Congress (the resolution being subject to Presidential veto, as usual).
            John L. Ries
          • Gold Standard

            The "gold issue" is not that you use gold or gold coins. It is just that paper money must be backed by gold. So, if you had a $10 bill in your pocket, that would mean that, at the time of printing, there was $10 worth of gold locked away by the federal government. Not a question of hoarding. However, you can still buy gold and hoard it, even today. Look at the changes in the price of gold in recent years.
            hforman@...
          • Reply to "Gold Standard"

            Just for the sake of discussion, let's say, except for a few show bars, the gold of Fort Knox has long been transported to Europe.

            There might not be enough physical gold (and let's throw in silver) in America to properly represent the economic activity of 300+ million people.

            What then?
            Singularity Point
      • Technically, Executive Order 6102 was an impeachable offense.

        But then FDR was a socialist.
        Dr_Zinj
        • Reply to "Technically, Executive Order 6102 was an impeachable offense."

          He wasn't President long enough for anyone to really find out.

          Nor did America get the four billion in silver certificate notes - real money, not the evidence of interest bearing debt the "Federal Reserve" prints - so we don't know how that would have panned out.
          Singularity Point
        • Private interests have control.

          Technically, the Federal Reserve, the IRS, and the federal income tax are all unconstitutional, too. Sadly, our government hasn't followed the Constitution for at least a century. The reason is that all branches of the government are under the direct control of private interests. Checks and balances are a grand illusion when the entire system is controlled by the same group of people.

          This "Freedom Act," is laughable. It will change nothing. The intelligence agencies have proven time and time again that they don't follow the law. Passing more laws is irrelevant when the existing laws are not obeyed. This is just an empty gesture designed to soothe the nerves of the sheeple who were frightened when they got a glimpse of how the world really works.
          BillDem
          • So how do you manage to stay out of Gitmo?

            If you're right, the Feds (and their secret handlers) could hardly afford to have people like you running loose.
            John L. Ries
          • So how is the IRS unconstitutional

            All governments need tax collectors and the authority to establish a tax collection agency is "necessary and proper" to levying taxes, which Congress is specifically authorized to do. I assume that you maintain that the Sixteenth Amendment (which authorizes Congress to tax incomes without apportionment among the states according to population) was improperly ratified (the usual claim).

            And if the Fed is unconstitutional, then so was the Bank of the United States (found to be constitutional by the Supreme Court in McCulloch v Maryland; opinion written by none other than John Marshall).
            John L. Ries
  • House passes Freedom Act in effort to curb NSA spying, despite withdrawn in

    I might be in the minority here for believing the conspiracy theories but I seriously doubt any act or bill is going to stop the NSA from spying foreign or domestic. I have a feeling they are going to do it anyway except this time they will be more secretive about it.
    Loverock.Davidson
    • Reply to "House passes Freedom Act in effort .."

      Hm, yeah, but it would be nice to think that gov't goes about things lawfully and not like criminals. Is this bill a step towards that? Could be.
      Singularity Point
  • So where was the watering down done?

    Were the weakening amendments adopted on the floor of the House, or were they added by the Republican leadership behind closed doors?
    John L. Ries