Skip to Content

Government Surveillance

House Passes Amendment to Rein in NSA’s Warrantless Searches

The U.S. House of Representatives overwhelmingly passed an amendment by Representatives Thomas Massie and Zoe Lofgren to the Department of Defense Appropriations Act (H.R. 4870). The amendment would make two important reforms to NSA surveillance – closing the “backdoor search loophole” and forbidding the NSA from asking companies to undermine the security of technology products and services.

“The huge bipartisan vote in favor of this amendment demonstrates Congress’ support for further reforms of overbroad surveillance authorities,” said Harley Geiger, Senior Counsel at the Center for Democracy & Technology (CDT). “Clearly there is political will to resolve problems that surveillance reform legislation like the USA FREEDOM Act (H.R. 3361) fails to address. Americans are deeply concerned about their privacy from government access, and it’s pleasing to see that message is being heard.”

“The Massie/Lofgren amendment would end the NSA’s practice of searching without a warrant the trove of information it collects under Section 702 of FISA for the communications of Americans,” said Greg Nojeim, CDT’s Senior Counsel and Director of the Freedom, Security and Technology Project. “The Massie/Lofgren amendment would also forbid the NSA from using its funds to induce companies to introduce new security vulnerabilities in technology products and services in order to facilitate surveillance. These are significant and sorely-needed reforms that enhance privacy and user trust in American technology.”

Currently, the NSA can use Section 702 of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) to target people outside the U.S and collect vast amounts of Internet traffic without a court order – approximately 250 million Internet communications per year according to a 2011 court estimate. Many Americans’ communications are inadvertently and incidentally swept up in that surveillance. Once the NSA has collected communications content, the NSA can then search this pool of data for communications of U.S. persons without court approval and share this information with law enforcement. The Massie/Lofgren Amendment would close this “backdoor search loophole” by requiring the NSA to obtain a warrant before it can search for U.S. persons’ communications in the information it collects under Section 702.

The Massie/Lofgren amendment also forbids the NSA and the CIA from using funds to require or request that individuals or companies alter their products and services to enable government surveillance. The NSA has a history of weakening the security of technology products, undermining trust in U.S. businesses and leaving users vulnerable.