Bipartisan Secure Data Act Has Votes to Pass House, But Will Lawmakers Drag Their Feet?

Last week, a bipartisan group of legislators introduced a bill intended to protect Americans’ privacy and online data.

In a press release, U.S. Reps. Thomas Massie (R-Ky.), James Sensenbrenner (R-Wis.), and Zoe Lofgren (D-Calif.) announced that the purpose of the Secure Data Act of 2015 is not to restrict the ability of intelligence agencies to collect data in general. However, they do intend to re-assert the role of Congress in regulating these activities:

“Congress has allowed the Administration’s surveillance authorities to go unchecked by failing to enact adequate reform. . . . With threats to our homeland ever prevalent, we should not tie the hands of the intelligence community. But unwarranted, backdoor surveillance is indefensible. The Secure Data Act is an important step in rebuilding public trust in our intelligence agencies and striking the appropriate balance between national security and civil liberty.”

The bill is an attempt to specifically guard against backdoor searches, including those where “identifiers” such as phone numbers and e-mail addresses known to belong to Americans are employed to conduct the searches. For years, privacy advocates have denounced these types of searches as a way to skirt the law.

According to the Register, a UK-based tech site, “Under the proposed Secure Data Act, developers cannot be forced to insert security holes into devices and code.” An ACLU lawyer quoted in the story said that the previous bill’s success might indicate “that at least in the House they know how important it is to secure encryption efforts.”

Massie, Lofgren, and Sensenbrenner tried to pass a similar version of the Secure Data Act near the end of the 113th Congress. The legislation passed with broad support, 293-123, but was not included in the omnibus bill that passed at the end of the session.

A Senate version of the Secure Data Act was introduced by Oregon U.S. Sen. Ron Wyden (D) in January. His bill is still waiting to move through the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation.

Regaining the people’s trust may be one of the harder obstacles when it comes to regulations on spying and surveillance. Polls have consistently shown that Americans do not approve of the current methods of surveillance and data collection.

Previous bills have passed Congress seeking to limit the power and authority of agencies like the National Security Agency. However, the final products were severely watered down versions of the initial legislation. Even extensively supported bills such as the previous Secure Data Act failed to get anywhere in both chambers of Congress.

What does bipartisanship actually mean in Congress?

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