An “indispensable” defense Bill pending in US House of Representatives could be amended to end government practice of buying information about Americans that the nation’s highest court has said police need a warrant to seize. While it’s far too early to assess the legislation’s chances of surviving the next few months of debate, it’s currently one of the relatively few amendments to garner support from both Republican and Democratic members.
The introduction of the amendment follows a report declassified by the Office of the Director of National Intelligence– the nation’s top spy – who revealed last month that intelligence and law enforcement had purchased data on Americans that the government’s own experts described as “the same type” of information as the United States Supreme Court in 2018 sought protection against warrantless searches and seizures.
A handful of House lawmakers, Republicans and Democrats, have declared their support for the amendment submitted late last week by Representatives Warren Davidson, a Republican from Ohio, and Sara Jacobs, a Democrat from California. The bipartisan duo are calling for tougher warrant requirements for the surveillance data constantly accumulated by people’s cellphones. They argue that it shouldn’t matter if a company is willing to accept payment from the government instead of clearance from a judge.
“Warrantless mass surveillance violates the constitutionally protected right to privacy,” Davidson says. The amendment, he says, is primarily intended to prevent the government from “circumventing the Fourth Amendment” by buying “your location data, your browsing history or what you watch online”.
A copy of the Davidson-Jacobs amendment reviewed by WIRED shows that the requirements of the mandate it seeks to strengthen focus specifically on web browsing and internet search history, as well as GPS coordinates and data. other location information mainly from mobile phones. It further encapsulates “information protected by the Fourth Amendment” and would prevent law enforcement at all levels of jurisdiction from exchanging “anything of value” for information about people that would typically require a ” warrant, court order or subpoena under the law”.
The amendment contains an exception for anonymous information which it describes as “reasonably” immune to de-anonymization; a legal term of the art that would defer to a court’s analysis of the more fluid technical details of a case. A judge might, for example, find it unreasonable to assume that a dataset is indeed obfuscated based simply on the word of a data broker. The Federal Trade Commission’s Privacy and Identity Division noted last year that claims that data is anonymized “are often misleading,” adding that “significant research” reflects how point it is often trivial to re-identify “anonymized data”.
The amendment was introduced on Friday to defense legislation that will ultimately authorize a series of policies and programs that will eat up much of the Pentagon’s nearly $890 billion budget next year. The National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA), which Congress is required to pass each year, typically consists of hundreds or even thousands of amendments.
This year, the negotiations are particularly contentious, given the divided chamber and a mess of inter-party conflictand only one in six NDAA amendments introduced so far have apparent bipartisan support.