Rep. Mike Fitzpatrick Introduces Bill To Smack The NSA In The Wallet For Each Data Collection Violation
from the keyed-in-the-wrong-country-code?-that's-a-paddlin' dept
Another day and another legislative attempt to rein in the NSA. NJ Congressman Rush Holt led the way by announcing his plan to introduce a bill to repeal the PATRIOT Act and the FISA Amendments act back on July 11th. This was followed by Michigan Congressman Justin Amash’s attempt to attach an NSA-defunding amendment to the Dept. of Defense appropriations bill making its way through the house.
A little later, Amash’s amendment suffered a narrow defeat, thanks in part to the Chairman of the House Intelligence Committee withholding key information from other members of Congress. Rush Holt’s bill is still a work in progress and Amash is planning legislation of his own that will set out to do what his failed amendment attempted. Meanwhile, a whole bunch of others in Congress have jumped in as well, which the ACLU has been conveniently tracking.
Now, another Congressman, Mike Fitzpatrick of Pennsylvania, is introducing his own legislation.
Rep. Mike Fitzpatrick (R-Pa.) proposed legislation on Monday that would cut National Security Agency (NSA) funding if it violates new surveillance rules aimed at preventing broad data collection on millions of people.
“This bill tells the NSA that if they unlawfully spy on Americans again, Congress will take away their funding,” Fitzpatrick said of his NSA Accountability Act. “The bill also makes it clear that the NSA can only track Americans where strong evidence suggests they are doing wrong.”
The three-term Republican said his bill is a reaction to this month’s press reports saying that the NSA overstepped its bounds thousands of times as it collected data on Americans from April 2011 to March 2012. An audit published by The Washington Post reported nearly 2,800 incidents of unauthorized data collection and storage.
Unlike the NSA’s surveillance efforts (zing!), Fitzpatrick’s bill is specifically targeted to problematic wording in the FISA Act, making a few changes to Section 501 subsection (b)(2)(a). Here’s how his proposed changes would alter the current wording. [Additions in bold, strikethru hopefully self-explanatory.]
(A) a statement of specific and articulable facts showing that there are reasonable grounds to believe that the tangible things sought are relevant and material to an authorized investigation (other than a threat assessment) conducted in accordance with subsection (a)(2) to obtain foreign intelligence information not concerning a United States person or to protect against international terrorism or
clandestine intelligence activities, such things being presumptively relevant to an authorized investigation if the applicant shows in the statement of the facts that they pertain toclandestine intelligence activities and pertain only to an individual that is the subject of such investigation; and
(i) a foreign power or an agent of a foreign power;
(ii) the activities of a suspected agent of a foreign power who is the subject of such authorized investigation; or
(iii) an individual in contact with, or known to, a suspected agent of a foreign power who is the subject of such authorized investigation; and
(B) an enumeration of the minimization procedures adopted by the Attorney General under subsection (g) that are applicable to the retention and dissemination by the Federal Bureau of Investigation of any tangible things to be made available to the Federal Bureau of Investigation based on the order requested in such application.
What the amendment would do is (hopefully) more narrowly define “relevant.” As it stands now, the FISA Act allows for the collection of tangible things presumptively relevant, which as we’ve seen, tends to allow for a lot of ancillary data harvesting. Fitzpatrick removes that wording and replaces it with even more specifics — “pertain only to an individual that is the subject of such investigation.” In addition, he slices out subsections (i) through (iii), which further narrows down the acceptable data the NSA can pursue.
Whether or not these wording changes will prevent extra “hops” or more massive data hauls remains to be seen. But Fitzpatrick is waving a bit of stick in the form of budget cuts should the agency reach surpass its authority.
[T]he legislation holds that any violation of Section 501 would be met with a decision to withhold all unobligated funds to carry out that section of law until the end of the fiscal year.
This may also encourage more targeted data collections, if for no other reason than so much of the NSA’s work is outsourced to private contractors. Government officials may be able to protect their own paychecks in case of self-inflicted budget cuts, but they’re going to have a hard time finding companies to work with them if internal malfeasance starts threatening their paychecks.
It’s tough to say whether these legislative attempts have a chance in hell at passing, but the odds have vastly improved over the past few weeks. There’s a ton of internal Congressional wrangling still ahead before these bills go up for a vote, but at this point, it’s highly doubtful the NSA and the administration protecting it will be able to sufficiently polish their reputations before these bills hit the floor. And no matter what happens, it’s refreshing to see the NSA being targeted by irate representatives and citizens, rather than the other way around.