The House of Representatives last night overwhelmingly passed an amendment to the Department of Defense Appropriations Act that would cut funding for two programs that grant intelligence agencies access to the private data and communications of U.S. citizens.

The amendment shows that Congress is willing to adjust and follow a different tactic to rein in government surveillance powers after a more straightforward legislative approach failed last month. Privacy and civil rights advocates heralded that first effort, known as the USA FREEDOM Act, as a promising step toward controlling government spying powers when it came out of its committee. However, once it hit the House floor for debate, the broader Congress summarily crippled the committee’s efforts by vaguely defining key terms in the FREEDOM Act.

The new bill was sponsored by U.S. Reps. Jim Sensenbrenner (R-Wis.), Zoe Lofgren (D-Calif.), Thomas Massie (R-Ky.) and a bipartisan group of lawmakers.

In a 293 (ayes) to 139 (noes) to 1 (present) vote, the Massie-Lofgren Amendment passed. Lawmakers say it will close off two so-called backdoors. According to the amendment’s sponsors, one would be shut by prohibiting the search of government databases for information pertaining to U.S. citizens without a warrant, and the other would prohibit the National Security Agency and Central Intelligence Agency from requiring actual technological backdoors into products.

In the Electronic Frontier Foundation’s (EFF) words, 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.

“This amendment will reinstate an important provision that was stripped from the original USA FREEDOM Act to further protect the Constitutional rights of American citizens,” the Sensenbrenner, Lofgren, and Massie said. “Congress has an ongoing obligation to conduct oversight of the intelligence community and its surveillance authorities.”

Congressional officials claim the bill is supported by both major parties. In addition to that, the bill is reportedly supported by tech firms, civil rights groups, and political action committees, including the American Civil Liberties Union, the Liberty Coalition, the EFF, Google, FreedomWorks, Campaign for Liberty, Demand Progress, and the Center for Democracy and Technology.

In a statement, the EFF described the move as important first step in reining in the NSA and applauded the House for its efforts.

Like the passage of a stand-alone bill, in order to become law, the amendment must be passed by the Senate and signed by the president. The amendment’s additional sponsors included Reps. John Conyers (D-Mich.), Ted Poe (R-Texas), Tulsi Gabbard (D-Hawaii), Jim Jordan (R-Ohio), Robert O’Rourke (D-Texas), Justin Amash (R-Mich.), Rush Holt (D-N.J.), Jerrold Nadler (D-N.Y.) and Tom Petri (R-Wis.).

Categories: Government, Privacy

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