House votes to rein in NSA ‘back door’ surveillance powers

By an overwhelming margin, the House passed a funding bill that among other things would significantly rein in intelligence agencies' ability to search through data they have collected and stop them from placing secret "back doors" into software and hardware products.

The bill includes an amendment, sponsored by Reps Thomas Massie (R-KY), Jim Sensenbrenner (R-WI) and Zoe Lofgren (D-CA), that adds the new restrictions.

The bill passed on a 340-to-73 vote. The amendment was passed in a 293-to-123 vote that surprised even those who have supported greater limits on the National Security Agency's powers.

The 2015 defense appropriations bill still needs to get worked out with the Senate, where the amendment's prospects are uncertain. If passed as-is by the Senate, the bill would block the government from doing two things: search government databases for information on a US citizen without a warrant, and force an organization to build into its product any technical "back door" that would assist the CIA or NSA with electronic surveillance. The amendment would bar the use of funds for searching an American's communications under this authority without a warrant.

Government officials contend that they are not required to obtain a warrant to search on data acquired lawfully. To do so would be a burden that would impair intelligence investigations, they say. The Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court in 2011 reversed a previous ban on such warrantless searches.

The amendment would also block the NSA and the CIA from asking or requiring a person to "alter its product or service to permit the electronic surveillance" of users -- essentially a ban on back doors in software and hardware.

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