Watch out: the US government wants to pass new spying laws behind your back

President Obama’s privacy oversight panel found that the NSA’s direct-internet filters permit the capture of ‘as many as tens of thousands’ of ‘purely domestic communications’. Illustration: Hisham Almiraat / Global Voices Online / Flickr via Creative Commons

Trevor Timm

Never underestimate the ability of the “do-nothing” US Congress to make sure it passes privacy-invasive legislation on its way out the door. In December 2012, the Senate re-upped the NSA’s vast surveillance powers over the holidays when no one was paying attention. In December 2013, Congress weakened video-rental privacy laws because Netflix asked them to and nobody noticed.

Now, as the post-election lame-duck session opens on Wednesday in Washington, the Senate might try to sneak through a “cybersecurity” bill that would, as the ACLU puts it, “create a massive loophole in our existing privacy laws”. The vague and ambiguous law would essentially allow companies like Google and Facebook to hand over even more of your personal information to the US government, all of which could ultimately end up in the hands of the NSA and the FBI.

The House already passed a version of this bill earlier in the year, and the White House, despite vowing to veto earlier versions, told reporters an “information sharing” cybersecurity bill was on its list of priorities for the lame-duck session (while NSA reform is not).

Senate intelligence committee chair Dianne Feinstein says she’s willing to make privacy compromises to get the bill to the floor, but did not elaborate — at all — on what those were. And given the sleazy tactics of House permanent select intelligence committee member Mike Rogers inpretending he had the support of privacy groups when the House passed its version of the bill, it’s hard to take anything the intelligence committees say in the area of privacy on good faith.

Saxby Chambliss and Feinstein are even using the “risking the economy” argument to get their bill up for a vote before the new Congress takes over next month. And, you know, failing to pass robust NSA reform is harming the economy too, according to virtually every major tech company, but so far Chambliss and Feinstein have done their best to ignore that.

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