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PATRIOT Act axed, NSA spying halted ... wake up, Neo, it's just a dream in the US House of Reps

It's the thought that counts

A law bill introduced in the US House of Representatives on Tuesday seeks to abolish the Patriot Act, ban Uncle Sam from forcing backdoors into technology, and safeguard whistleblowers like Edward Snowden.

Ever since Snowden leaked top-secret files detailing the NSA and GCHQ's global surveillance of innocent people, there have been calls for reforms – which have sparked little more than tinkering at the edges of the laws enabling the blanket snooping.

This bipartisan bill, introduced today by Reps. Mark Pocan (D-WI) and Thomas Massie (R-KY), takes a scorched-earth approach, and will simply dismantle the laws that make bulk data collection possible and institute new controls to protect privacy.

"The Patriot Act contains many provisions that violate the Fourth Amendment and have led to a dramatic expansion of our domestic surveillance state," said Congressman Massie.

"Our Founding Fathers fought and died to stop the kind of warrantless spying and searches that the Patriot Act and the FISA Amendments Act authorize. It is long past time to repeal the Patriot Act and reassert the constitutional rights of all Americans."

The Surveillance State Repeal Act, H.R. 1466 [PDF], if somehow passed, will kill off the Uniting and Strengthening America by Providing Appropriate Tools Required to Intercept and Obstruct Terrorism Act of 2001 (USA PATRIOT Act), which was passed in just three days in the panic following the September 11 attacks.

It would also get rid of the 2008 FISA Amendments Act, signed in the dying days of the last Bush presidency, which the NSA has used to justify large-scale data collection and surveillance programs. If passed, any future spying on American citizens requires a warrant and probable cause and information collected without that authorization would have to be destroyed.

"The warrantless collection of millions of personal communications from innocent Americans is a direct violation of our constitutional right to privacy," said Congressman Pocan.

"Revelations about the NSA's programs reveal the extraordinary extent to which the program has invaded Americans' privacy. I reject the notion that we must sacrifice liberty for security- we can live in a secure nation which also upholds a strong commitment to civil liberties."

In addition the bill would bar the government from mandating that technology firms install backdoors to their encryption systems and products, something law enforcement has been pressing for but which the industry and security experts believe would be a disaster.

There are also new protections for whistleblowers included in the legislation. Any federal employee or contractor would have the right to raise issues with an independent controller who would check the veracity of the information and report to Congress if rules had been broken.

"The EFF is not supporting the bill, but it's one example of how members of congress are trying to fix the surveillance law," Mark Jaycox, legislative analyst for the Electronic Frontier Foundation, told El Reg.

All in all, this bill is a grab bag of everything privacy campaigners have been asking for. Sadly, it has a snowflake's chance in Hell of getting the support of congressional leadership, who are terrified of being seen as soft on security. It is unlikely to pass through the Republican-controlled Congress successfully, especially amid the build up to a presidential election, and it also needs a related bill introduced in the Senate – such paperwork has not emerged. ®

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