Progress on NSA Reform?

By Paul Rosenzweig
Tuesday, July 22, 2014, 4:29 PM

So reports the LA Times.  Here's a short summary:

As part of the deal, the intelligence community agreed to a stricter definition of the search terms the NSA may use to seek data from telephone companies that might be useful in connecting the dots between known terrorists, said the official who would not be identified talking about ongoing negotiations.

Privacy advocates thought the definition for selection terms in the House bill created a loophole for NSA to continue its broad surveillance.

Intelligence officials also agreed to be more transparent about U.S. government snooping and consented to strengthening the role of a newly created public advocate, who would participate in Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court proceedings, the official said.

Readers will recall that in the House a stringent bill that privacy advocates supported passed the Judiciary Committee but was modified in a Manager's Amendment on the floor of the House.  The House-passed version allows selector queries of the metadata database (to be maintained by the telcos) and defines a selector as a "discrete term, such as a term specifically identifying a person, entity, account, address, or device."  The narrower version passed in the Judiciary Committee said, by contrast, that a selector was "a term used to uniquely describe a person, entity, or account."

According to privacy advocates the change in language took an exclusive list of identifiers and by adding "such as" and "addresses" and "devices" converted the selector rules into a larger, less-bounded set.  I think that's accurate but I am skeptical that the change had the catastrophic effect that the privacy advocates ascribed to it.

Nevertheless, apparently (though we have only the LA Times to go on) the Senate version will go back to something like the original House Judiciary language.  If the Senate passes the NSA reform package it would then, of course, go to Conference with the House, but with the Administration backing down, I am guessing that the House won't have the stomach to fight for its version.