UPDATE 12/18/2015: The $1.1 trillion omnibus spending bill passed the House this morning on a vote of 316-113 (see how your Representative voted). Shortly thereafter, the Senate passed the bill, 65-33 (see how your Senators voted). The President is expected to sign the bill.
Members of Congress are anxious to head home for the holidays. And who can blame them? But in their rush out the door, they’ve thrown privacy, transparency, accountability under the (onmi)bus.
The following provisions have been added to the omnibus bill, which Congress must pass this week to keep the government from shutting down:
Cyber Security Act of 2015
BORDC/DDF and other civil liberties groups have been working alongside cyber security experts for years to educate members of Congress and their staffs about how to best to protect Americans’ data from hackers. But Congress has all but ignored us, instead listening to the Chamber of Commerce to create proposals that give immunity to companies who share our personal data with the government under the guise of cyber security. For five years we’ve been able to kill bad cyber bills. But our run of success has come to an end: a small group of congressional staff negotiated in secret to hammer out a cyber deal that has been appended to the ‘must-pass’ omnibus bill. The negotiated version effectively creates significant new mass surveillance capabilities for the NSA, FBI and other government agencies, while weakening government watchdogs charged with protecting Americans’ personal information and privacy. Over 50 security experts and civil liberties groups opposed the provision.
The Privacy and Civil Liberties Oversight Board was established in 2007 following the recommendation of the 9/11 Commission which recognized that at “this time of increased and consolidated government authority, there should be a board within the executive branch to oversee adherence to the guidelines we recommend and the commitment the government makes to defend our civil liberties.”
Although the PCLOB was not fully functioning until August 2012, in the past three years it has produced significant reports on programs operated under Section 215 of the Patriot Act (here), and Section 702 of the FISA Amendments Act (here). The PCLOB is now looking into programs operating under Executive Order 12333.
To ensure that the Board is able to fulfill this mission, it is authorized by statute to access all relevant executive agency records, reports, audits, reviews, documents, papers, recommendations, and any other relevant materials, including classified information. But the House has included a provision in the Omnibus that will strip the PCLOB of the abiity to get broadly defined covert information. Reports indicate that the motivation behind this provision is to prevent the PCLOB from investigating the targeted killing of U.S. citizens by drone strikes. Read our letter of protest here.