A bill recently proposed by Senator Dianne Feinstein as an NSA reform law will do nothing to curb the spy agency's surveillance reach and will instead "codify" the NSA's worst abuses, an analysis by journalist Spencer Ackerman and published at The Guardian on Friday warns.
According to Ackerman, Feinstein's bill would officially legalize the NSA's ability to search "its troves of foreign phone and email communications for Americans’ information" without a warrant and "permit law enforcement agencies to search the vast databases as well."
The FISA Improvements Act, promoted by Dianne Feinstein, the California Democrat who chairs the Senate intelligence committee, would both make permanent a loophole permitting the NSA to search for Americans’ identifying information without a warrant – and, civil libertarians fear, contains an ambiguity that might allow the FBI, the DEA and other law enforcement agencies to do the same thing.
Feinstein’s bill passed the committee on an 11 to 4 vote on 31 October. An expanded report on its provisions released by the committee this week added details about the ability of both intelligence and law enforcement to sift through foreign communications databases that it accumulates under section 702 of the FISA Amendments Act of 2008.
As Ackerman reports, Section 6 of Feinstein’s bill "blesses" what NSA critic Senator Ron Wyden called the “backdoor search provision,” revealed by the Guardian earlier this year, which essentially permits intelligence agencies, likely including the FBI, to comb through the “'contents of communications' collected primarily overseas for identifying information on US citizens, resident aliens and people inside the US, provided that the 'purpose of the query is to obtain foreign intelligence information or information necessary to understand foreign intelligence information or to assess its importance.'"
“For the first time, the statute would explicitly allow the government to proactively search through the NSA data troves of information without a warrant,” Michelle Richardson, the surveillance lobbyist for the ACLU, told The Guardian.
“It may also expand current practices by allowing law enforcement to directly access US person information that was nominally collected for foreign intelligence purposes. This fourth amendment back door needs to be closed, not written into stone,” said Richardson.
The pro-NSA legislation, however, should come as no surprise originating from Feinstein.
As the transparency organization MapLight recently highlighted, Feinstein receives generous contributions from top intelligence service contractors such as General Dynamics, Northrop Grumman, Lockheed Martin and Honeywell International.
As MapLight points out, since 2007 Feinstein has received three times the amount of contributions from these sources as Senator Patrick Leahy, who last week introduced a competing NSA bill that has been hailed by civil liberties experts as a bill "that would put an end to many of the NSA's bulk surveillance and data collection activities."