U.S. Rep. Suzan DelBene (D-WA, 1) better hope voters have been paying attention to her longstanding fight to curtail NSA spying—otherwise her dissident vote today against legislation that's supposed to rein in the NSA may make her look like she's on the Big Brother side of the issue.
DelBene was one of just 70 Democrats and 51 Republicans to vote against the so-called USA Freedom Act today; the legislation, which puts guidelines on the NSA's metadata surveillance (made famous by Edward Snowden's revelations), passed 303-121. DelBene, who represents the Microsoft suburbs, and U.S. Rep. Adam Smith (D-WA, 9), who represents Southeast Seattle and the suburbs down to Tacoma, were the only two members of Washington's delegation to vote 'No.'
The bill does prevent the government from retaining metadata, forcing the government to get court approval for individual searches from telecom and internet companies. The legislation also changes the degrees of separation (from three to two—meaning, if someone is talking to someone else, that's OK, but if someone is talking to someone who was talking to someone else, that's not cool) that the government can use when requesting data on people.
Those safeguards aside, the bill amended the guidelines regulating government search requests, changing it from specific people, accounts, or entities to allowing broader searches such as for "addresses" and "devices."
"It opens the door for the government to obtain call data or metadata from every call made in the 98052 [Redmond] zip code."
"It opens the door for the government to obtain call data or metadata from every call made in the 98052 [Redmond] zip code," says Rep. DelBene spokesman Viet Shelton.
The bill also scales back the effectiveness of language Rep. DelBene successfully fought to include at the judiciary committee level that enabled Internet companies to let the public know what kind of searches were going on.
While companies can still disclose government searches, the new bill limits that disclosure, exempting things such as searches done under the 702 provision of the Patriot Act, the provision that authorizes mass collection of content from overseas—and has provided a loophole for the government to creep into stateside data in the past. Similarly, the new language also exempts government sweeps of new social media technologies—say Snapchat—for two years after they're introduced. (DelBene tried and failed to stop that amendment on the floor this week).
The changes drew heavy criticism from the ACLU and social media and Internet companies like Google, Facebook, and Microsoft.
“While we appreciate Congress’ efforts to promote transparency around surveillance requests and were supportive of the version that passed out of the Judiciary and Intelligence committees, the legislation has moved in the wrong direction,” the Reform Government Surveillance Coalition, which includes tech giants like Google, Yahoo, Twitter and Microsoft, said today. “The latest draft opens up an unacceptable loophole that could enable the bulk collection of Internet users’ data. While it makes important progress, we cannot support this bill as currently drafted and urge Congress to close this loophole to ensure meaningful reform.”
Of course, it also drew a harsh critique from house judiciary committee member Rep. DelBene, who, it is worth noting, counts Microsoft as her No. 1 donor this election cycle, at $27,000 total between company employees and the Microsoft PAC.
Here's a bit of what she said on the house floor today:
The NSA has repeatedly violated the trust, not to mention the privacy, of the American people. This bill leaves the door open for this to continue.
The NSA surveillance bill that the House leadership put before a vote today is a weakened, watered-down version of the USA Freedom Act that I originally cosponsored.
The truth is today’s bill falls short of clearly guaranteeing that massive data collection by the NSA will be put to a full stop.
Today’s bill unfortunately creates a new loophole for the NSA and the government to still engage in bulk-like collection of massive amounts of data from innocent Americans.
DelBene was in the minority, even among the Democrats—local liberals such as U.S. Rep. Jim McDermott (D-WA, 7) voted for it.
U.S. Rep. Rick Larsen (D-WA, 2), another Washington Democrat who voted for the bill, issued a statement of his own.
This bill makes important progress toward strengthening oversight and increasing transparency by reining in the NSA’s collection of Americans’ phone records. But it could do more. Some provisions in the bill that describe surveillance targets could be stronger. I hope the Senate can make these improvements.
The American public deserves to know what data the government collects, so I’m pleased the Act allows tech companies to disclose orders from the government to hand over phone data.
The NSA’s dragnet data collection is unacceptable and the House has acted rightly in making critical reforms that will introduce some sunlight into government surveillance. These reforms may not be perfect but they are an essential step forward in protecting Americans’ civil liberties and ensuring national security.