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House of Representatives vote to close NSA surveillance loophole

If passed, NSA will require a warrant for data searches.

By Ben Sullivan

The NSA has to limit its ability to search US data records after the House of Representatives voted 293-123 to approve a proposal which would require the agency to get a court-ordered warrant for searches.

The proposal would close the ‘backdoor search’ loophole which currently exists in US law, allowing NSA surveillance of overseas communications. A final vote will be held today, where the bill will move on to the Senate if passed by the House.

The loophole is part of the FISA Amendments Act which allows the NSA to gather intelligence overseas from online and telephone communications, but not from US residents. However, a loophole is formed as the law doesn’t prohibit the NSA from querying US communications collected inadvertently overseas.

It was a bipartisan vote last night, with Democrats supporting the bill 158 to 29 and Republicans supporting in 135 to 94.
The bill garnered massive social media support, with a #ShutTheBackDoor Twitter campaign gaining traction online.

It is worth pointing out, however, that the bill does not technically make the loophole exploitation illegal, but outlaws the use of Defence budget funds to be channelled for these uses.

On the other side of the Atlnatic, Europe’s highest court is set to consider whether Facebook illegally allowed the NSA to spy on its European users.

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The European High Court will try to determine whether or not the social network transferred masses of user data to US intelligence services after Ireland’s High Court adjourned a privacy campaigner’s case, pending European judges’ findings.

Campaigner Max Schrems contends that Ireland’s data protection commissioner had incorrectly refused to investigate claims that Facebook’s Dublin base had illegally sent user data to the NSA under the latter’s Prism surveillance programme.

Now Europe will decide whether Irish regulators should investigate the data transfers or not, which were permitted under a US-European agreement that relies on the assumption that US privacy protections are equivalent to those in the EU.

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