Congress

  • SurveillanceHouse-approved NSA reform bill fails in Senate

    Earlier this morning (Saturday), for the second time in less than a year, the Senate rejected a bill to end the National Security Agency’s (NSA) bulk collection of American phone metadata records. The House-approved USA Freedom Act failed to reach the 60-vote threshold required to bring the bill to a vote on the floor (the vote was 57-42 in favor – three votes short). The bill’s opponents used different procedural maneuvering, lasting until the early morning hours Saturday, to block the bill itself from coming to a vote. The failure to pass the House bill – or any bill dealing with bulk collection – means that Senate, when it reconvenes on 31 May, will have only a few hours to decide the fate of Section 215 of the Patriot Act – the section which governs data collection and which has given the NSA and FBI broad domestic surveillance powers – before it expires on midnight that day. Senate GOP caucus is deeply divided on the issue, but House Republicans and Democrats exhibit a rare accord.

  • DHS bills markupHouse committee to markup eleven Homeland Security bills

    The House Committee on Homeland Security will today markup eleven Homeland Security bills. The committee will consider the legislation passed last week from a Subcommittee on Oversight and Management Efficiency markup, a Subcommittee on Emergency Preparedness, Response, and Communications markup, and other homeland security related bills.

  • SurveillanceHouse overwhelmingly votes for overhauling NSA phone metadata bulk collection program

    The House yesterday voted overwhelmingly to ban the bulk collection of American phone metadata, as lawmakers increase the pressure to reform one of the more controversial data collection programs of the National Security Agency (NSA). The program was revealed as a result of Edward Snowden’s leaks. The House voted 338-88 in favor of the USA Freedom Act — the second time the House has voted for a more restrictive data collection scheme. Supporters of surveillance reform are more confident that there will be a majority in the Senate to support a similar measure. The House bill has already gained the support of the White House and the intelligence community. The Senate does not have much time, as the Patriot Act – which includes Section 215 which governs the NSA surveillance program – expires at the end of the month. Leading civil liberties organizations, however, have criticized the bill as not going far enough.

  • SurveillanceCourt rules NSA bulk metadata collection exceeded Patriot Act’s Section 215

    On Thursday, a three-judge panel from the New York-based 2nd Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals overturned an earlier ruling by Judge William Pauley, which found that the controversial NSA bulk collection of domestic phone metadata was legal and could not be subject to judicial review. That section, which the appeals court ruled the NSA program exceeded, will expire on 1 June. The judges did not address the issue of whether the NSA program violated the Constitution, instead waiting for Congress to decide how to proceed after the program’s 1 June expiration.

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  • SurveillanceNSA accepts proposed Congressional curbs on bulk data collection

    The NSA’s domestic bulk phone metadata collection program, authorized under Section 215 of the U.S.A. Patriot Act, is set to expire on 1 June. Congress is now gearing up to pass new legislation, called the USA Freedom Act, to curb the NSA’s ability to store domestic phone metadata, instead keeping the information with telecommunications companies. NSA officials have welcomed the proposed restrictions, saying many within the agency doubted the effectiveness of its bulk metadata collection program.

  • CybersecurityLawmakers reintroduce “Aaron’s Law” to curb CFAA abuses

    A bipartisan group of lawmakers have reintroduced a bill known as “Aaron’s Law,” which aims to reform the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act (CFAA). CFAA has been cited by civil libertarians (EFF) as having been abused to the point where it now stifles research and innovation, as well as civil liberties. the measure is intended to honor Aaron Swartz, the Reddit co-founder who was apprehended after downloading millions of scholarly articles from a Massachusetts Institute of Technology database in 2011. Following his arrest, with charges under the CFAA which might lead to a maximum sentence of thirty-five years in prison, Swartz committed suicide at age 26, leading some to charge that the aggression of prosecutors led to the his decision.

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  • CybersecurityEfforts to improve cyber information sharing between the private sector, government

    Lately, Obama administration officials having been venturing West to encourage tech firms to support the government’s efforts to improve cyber information sharing between the private sector and government agencies. The House of Representatives last week passed two bills to advance such effort. The Protecting Cyber Networks Act and the National Cybersecurity Protection Advancement Act of 2015 authorize private firms to share threat data such as malware signatures, Internet protocol addresses, and domain names with other companies and the federal government. To the liking of the private sector, both bills offer companies liability protection for participating in cyberthreat information sharing.

  • SurveillanceFBI, NSA want surveillance measures to remain in reauthorized Patriot Act

    On 1 June, Section 215 of the U.S.A Patriot Act, which permits law enforcement and intelligence agencies to collect certain customers’ records from U.S. businesses including communications and credit card firms, is set to expire. Congress has been debating whether to reauthorize the section of the act or pass measures that will curb the level of surveillance it currently grants. In recent days, representatives from the NSA and the FBI have been meeting with legislators to inform them of the importance of Section 215, still both chambers of Congress seem to be uncertain on how to move forward.

  • H-1B visasTech companies push for more visas for highly skilled foreign workers

    Tech companies seeking more visas for highly skilled foreign workers are pushing their agenda as the United States grant visas to a number of immigrants in a lottery which began this week. Supporters of the campaign say 233,000 people are vying for 85,000 H-1B temporary visas. Some critics want to cut back on the H-1B visas, blaming the program for displacing American workers, butcalls to scale back on H-1B visas will have to overcome a campaign backed by powerful groups. In 1999, Congress raised the cap to 115,000 to help the booming technology sector. That limit soon rose to 195,000 before falling back to its current level in 2004.

  • Food safetyImplementing new food safety measure hampered by lack of funding

    Roughly forty-eight million Americans have food-borne illness each year, and according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 128,000 of them are hospitalized, and 3,000 die. The cost of treatment and lost income is $15 billion a year or more, according to data from the Agriculture Department.When Congress passed the 2010 Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA) to give the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) new powers to prevent food outbreaks, however, it failed adequately to fund the agency, thereby diminishing its ability to implement new regulations and inspection powers on food producers and foreign suppliers.

  • ImmigrationHouse Democrats write court in support of Obama’s immigration executive order

    On Monday, 181 Democratic House members filed a joint amicus brief, telling the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 5th Circuitthat the executive branch has the authority to make certain policy changes on immigration matters. Specifically, they noted that that the enforcement of immigration laws and the deferral of certain deportations are within the discretion of the executive branch. The lawmakers added that the White House is often better positioned than Congress to determine how to adjust immigration laws.

  • DHS grantsDHS FY2015 preparedness grants total $1.6 billion

    Secretary of Homeland Security Jeh Johnson last week announced the release of Fiscal Year (FY) 2015 Notices of Funding Opportunity for nine DHS preparedness grant programs totaling more than $1.6 billion. “The grants reflect the Department’s focus on implementation of an all-of-nation, whole-community approach to the building, sustainment, and delivery of those core capabilities essential to achieving a secure and resilient nation,” DHS says.

  • Patriot ActPrivacy concerns potentially an obstacle to 1 June Patriot Act reauthorization

    With the USA Patriot Act set to expire on 1 June, lawmakers are debating whether the bill, which allows the National Security Agency (NSA) to collect bulk metadata of U.S. phone records, should be extended. The act was last renewed in 2011, before former NSA contractor Edward Snowden revealed details of the U.S. intelligence agency’s surveillance activities. The debate around the reauthorization of the Patriot Act focuses on Section 215 of the law, used by the NSA to mass collect phone records in an effort to locate terrorists who might be calling supporters in the United States.

  • CybersecuritySenate panel passes revised cybersecurity bill, but privacy concerns remain

    Last Thursday, the Senate Intelligence Committeepassed the Cybersecurity Information Sharing Act(CISA) meant to encourage the private sector to share data with federal agencies, with the hopes of preventing and responding to cyberthreats before they materialized. The bill is a reincarnation of the 2013 Cyber Intelligence Sharing and Protection Act(CISPA), which drew a veto threat from President Barack Obama because of privacy concerns. Critics say that CISA, as was the case with its predecessor, would create a legal framework for companies to more closely monitor internet users and share that data with government agencies.

  • IranIran letter may be a failed experiment or a sign of things to come

    By Peter Spiro

    Senator Tom Cotton (R-Arkansas) sparked a political firestorm with his 9 March open letter to the leaders of Iran, co-signed by forty-six of his colleagues. The letter warns Iranian negotiators that President Obama’s successor could cancel any agreement with the United States not approved by the Senate as a formal treaty. Cotton’s observations on U.S. treaty law are facile at best, the stuff of an elective constitutional law course. It is not the substance that has rankled so many Washington observers, however, it is the form. Many described the letter as a “breach of protocol,” as if it has been out of institutional politesse that members of Congress have historically refrained from this kind of direct communication with foreign leaders. That understates the case considerably. Established constitutional doctrine holds that presidents have exclusive authority to engage foreign governments on the nation’s behalf. If this principle – sometime called John Marshall’s “sole organ” doctrine, after Chief Justice Marshall – is not followed, and if politics does not stop at the water’s edge, the result will be a free-for-all foreign policy, a scaling up of the polarization already endemic to domestic politics. No one should welcome the prospect, but it may become a fact of life. Expect presidents to up the ante by taking more aggressive unilateral measures, further reducing the possibility of inter-party cooperation. The 9 March letter may be a peek at a new kind of politics beyond the water’s edge, requiring new kinds of navigation.