House Committee Passes Landmark Amendment Restricting NSA

The House Science and Technology Committee passed a landmark Internet security amendment on Wednesday, moving to protect encryption standards from National Security Agency interference.

The amendment to the FIRST Act, brought forth by Rep. Alan Grayson (D-Fla.), proposes the National Institute of Standards and Technology be exempt from consulting with the NSA on security standards and practices. Its passage marks the first time any body of Congress has approved legislation that constrains the NSA in any way.

Grayson issued a letter to the committee on Tuesday, ahead of the vote, pointing to reports by The New York Times and The Guardian that cited efforts by the NSA to weaken security standards. He said the allegations warrant a "stern response" from the panel:

These are serious allegations. NIST, which falls solely under the jurisdiction of the Science, Space, and Technology Committee, has been given "the mission of developing standards, guidelines, and associated methods and techniques for information systems". To violate that charge in a manner that would deliberately lessen encryption standards, and willfully diminish American citizens' and business' cyber-security, is appalling and warrants a stern response by this Committee. Many businesses, from Facebook to Google, have lamented the NSA's actions in the cyber world; and some, such as Lavabit, have consciously decided to shut their doors rather than continue to comply with the wishes of the NSA. Changes need to be made at NIST to protect its work in the encryption arena.

Access Now, an advocacy group committed to defending a free and open Internet, lauded the committee's move to approve the amendment.

"Today’s amendment will help support data integrity by ensuring that the standards used to protect all internet users are not artificially weakened. We applaud the Committee’s adoption of this amendment and hope that Congress will take this as an opportunity to further study the extent of NSA’s attempts to undermine internet security," wrote Access Now's Amie Stepanovich on Wednesday.

CLARIFICATION: The article originally did not state that the proposed amendment is to the Frontiers in Innovation, Research, Science, and Technology (FIRST) Act.



U.S. Capitol Photos