The NSA just lost its budget for ‘backdoor’ web spying (Wired UK)


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US Congress has voted to pass a legal amendment that will cut off funding to the NSA and
CIA’s “backdoor” programme and prevent the spy agency from snooping
on its citizens’ internet communications.

Members of Congress backing the ‪#‎ShutTheBackDoor campaign,
which aims to prevent the NSA from intercepting US-made hardware to
install malicious spyware, rejoiced late 19 June when the amendment
to the Department of Defense Appropriations Act 2015 was passed in
the House of Representatives, by a vote of 293-123.

In May this year, the Guardian reported how spy tools
were being implanted in US routers then sold internationally and Der
Spiegel
revealed that computers, hard drives and more, made by
the likes of Cisco, Dell, Samsung, and Huawei, were being tampered
with.

By no means does this vote mean the work will not continue. Last year Der Spiegel reported of the existence of a
spy tool catalogue, which included gadgets costing up to $250,000
(£146,000) ready to be installed in systems. However, some of the
tools were free, or cost as little as $30 (£17.60). Hackers are already attempting to reverse engineer those tools
though
, which should make it easier to start defending against
them. The new amendment to the Defense Act, initially proposed by
Republican Thomas Massie and Democrat Zoe Lofgren in a rare show of
unity between the two parties, should make it harder for the NSA to
develop new tools, though.

The second part of the amendment relates to a loophole that
allows the government to spy on its own citizens. It will prevent
the NSA from using government funds to collect and search the
communications of citizens without a warrant, under section 702 of
the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act. The NSA has been using
this law to conduct warrantless searches of mass data, despite it
being designed for intercepting foreign communications — in much
the same way GCHQ uses legal loopholes to spy on any “external”. Because of
this the UK agency says it has free reign to trawl through its
citizens data, with one restriction — it cannot search for
individual names and addresses of UK citizens in that data. In the
US though, the NSA has been carrying out such searches without a
warrant.

Again, the amendment doesn’t exactly outlaw doing these things.
It is outlawing the use of funds under the Defense budget to be
redirected for these uses.

A group including Google and a host of civil liberties groups penned an open letter to the House of Representative before the
vote, urging: “Both of these measures would make appreciable
changes that would advance government surveillance reform and help
rebuild lost trust among internet users and businesses, while also
preserving national security and intelligence authorities.”

This week’s amendment comes off the back of a number of
promising moves in the US. Earlier in the week the Eleventh Circuit
Court of Appeals found that tracking a person’s movements using
data from their smartphone, collected without a warrant, was unconstitutional. And in May, the House of Representatives
passed a surveillance reform bill by a massive 303 votes to 121
that stands to outlaw the bulk collection of US telephone
metadata.

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Of course, most of these moves are designed to protect US
citizens from unjustified and warrantless government probing. But
the knock-on effect may be that close partner GCHQ is forced to
concede similar changes in wake of the news. After all, both
agencies’ policies appear to mirror image the others’ when it comes
to unlawful surveillance of their own citizens, supported by
loopholes and some very special interpretations of the law. Preventing the
manipulation of US-made computer hardware shipped abroad, however,
will of course directly benefit the rest of us already.

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20 June 2014 | 8:33 am – Source: wired.co.uk
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