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House adopts amendment to bar NSA encryption meddling

Barber votes against 'backdoor spying' measure; Grijalva supports it

An amendment designed to bar the National Security Agency from undermining encryption standards was approved by the House on Thursday night.

The move follows reporting last year by ProPublica, the Guardian, and the New York Times on the NSA's efforts to weaken encryption, including by influencing the development of standards by the National Institute of Standards and Technology. The stories were based on documents provided by Edward Snowden.

The amendment, sponsored by Rep. Alan Grayson (D-Fla.) and similar to one he advanced last month, bars the NSA from using appropriation funds to consult with NIST in a way that undermines security standards.

It still has a way to go before becoming law: While the House is expected today to approve the full appropriations bill that the amendment is a part of, the Senate would have to pass the same text, and ultimately President Obama would have to approve.

The amendment is separate from another one the House adopted last night that is designed to block the NSA from conducting "backdoor" spying on Americans by querying databases of foreign intelligence.

The voice vote on Grayson's amendment, co-sponsored by Reps. Rush Holt (D-N.J.) and Zoe Lofgren (D-Calif.), was preceded by a few minutes of interesting debate among Grayson, Holt, and Rodney Frelinghuysen (R-N.J.), chairman of the defense appropriations subcommittee.

Noting that he did not oppose the amendment, Frelinghuysen nevertheless rejected what he called the "allegations" that NSA had meddled with encryption standards.

"The idea that NSA has deliberately sabotaged security is ridiculous," Frelinghuysen said. "These folks know the threat we face and are helping to secure the Internet we all rely on so heavily."

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Grayson and Holt cited our reporting on the NSA's efforts to undermine encryption standards.

A Grayson spokesperson cautioned it's always possible that the NSA has a classified funding stream that could allow it to continue to meddle with encryption standards.

Here is video of the debate on the amendment:

And here's the full amendment itself:

SEC. None of the funds made available by this Act may be used to “consult”, as the term is used in reference to the Department of Defense and the National Security Agency, in contravention of the “assur[ance]” provided in section 20(c)(1)(A) of the National Institute of Standards and Technology Act (15 U.S.C. 278g-3(c)(1)(A)).
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How Southern Arizona voted

The encryption amendment was passed by a voice vote, while the amendment to bar the NSA from querying foreign databases was passed on a roll call vote, 293-123. On that question, U.S. Rep. Ron Barber voted no, while U.S. Rep. Raul Grijalva voted aye. U.S. Rep. Ann Kirkpatrick did not vote on the amendment.

Barber said in an email Friday that "I believe strongly that we must both protect the constitutional rights of every American and the freedom and liberty that we enjoy every day. I voted against the Massie amendment because it restricts our ability to collect valuable foreign intelligence information about terrorists and other dangerous targets overseas. I supported the Defense Appropriations bill that prohibits the use of funds for the National Security Agency to spy on U.S. citizens."

"Americans should never have to doubt their constitutional protections," Grijalva said of his vote in a written statement Monday. "I was happy to support this amendment that blocks dangerous backdoor searches of American's communications. These searches are a violation of the public's trust and cause suspicion around the agencies tasked with our nation's security. We can protect our society without undermining the very rights that make it worth protecting in the first place."