back to article House passes bill banning Uncle Sam from snooping on citizens via data brokers

A draft law to restrict the US government's ability to procure data on citizens through data brokers will progress to the Senate after being passed in the House of Representatives. The Fourth Amendment Is Not For Sale Act (H.R.4639) was passed on Wednesday by a narrow 219-199 majority vote, despite fierce opposition from the …

  1. mark l 2 Silver badge

    "Speaking to The Register at the time, a spokesperson for the House Energy and Commerce Committee said there were no publicly available examples of enemies purchasing US data from brokers."

    Does the spokesperson really believe the scum that are these data brokers won't happily take money from anyone who is willing to pay them for the information? I suspect you could be contact them as 'We love taking drugs and beating our spouses organisation' they would still sell you the data if you offered them enough $$$. So some foreign entity who sets up a shell company will have no problems with obtaining US citizens data from them.

    1. Michael Wojcik Silver badge

      No, he said there were no publicly available examples. Try reading next time.

  2. cornetman Silver badge

    > The White House's main argument against the ban is that being able to procure commercially available information (CAI) from data brokers is crucial for intelligence agencies and law enforcement.

    That's like trying to justify theft by saying that it is vital for the survival of poor people for them to be able to procure goods and food.

    The ends don't necessarily justify the means.

    1. Cav Bronze badge

      No, it isn't. Theft of actual, physical goods denies those goods to the owner. Data can be copied as often as you wish with no loss to the owner. The problem is how it is used. As long as there is strong oversight and data is not retained indefinitely, security services should have access to available data.

      1. cornetman Silver badge
        Facepalm

        The point wasn't that the facts were similar, but that you can't justify wrong-doing just because it makes someone's lot easier.

      2. Yorick Hunt Silver badge

        "As long as there is strong oversight and data is not retained indefinitely"

        As has been proven many times over, there is no oversight (and when there is, it's blatantly ignored) and the collected data is stored indefinitely.

      3. Michael Wojcik Silver badge

        As long as there is strong oversight and data is not retained indefinitely, security services should have access to available data.

        The DHS is at the door — they were wondering if you could lick their boots some more.

  3. Cav Bronze badge

    "banning the government from using data brokers and not any other type of entity, it does little to protect the privacy of US citizens, all while threatening national security."

    They do have a point. No one should be collecting data but banning only government from accessing it, where it actually already does exist, is bizarre. We can't use it to defned ourselves aganst criminals and terrorists but can to sell useless tat? That's ridiculous.

    1. GrumpyKiwi

      Last time I checked, sellers of useless tat didn't claim the right to use a drone fired Hellfire to kill you if they mistakenly ID'd you as a terrorist (or military aged male within 500 meters of someone we've ID'd as a terrorist). I've never heard of Baidu sending a poorly trained SWAT team into someone's house to shoot their dog and look for drugs. Never had Amazon charge me with crimes for using eBay to buy something.

      Maybe that whole "legally able to kill you" is the kind of thing whereby a Government should have to work A LOT harder to gather information and use it than "sellers of tat". Dunno? Just me??

    2. Michael Wojcik Silver badge

      A significant aspect of US political thought, going back to before the Revolution (and, yes, derived from numerous sources, particularly European liberal political theory and Indigenous American political philosophy1), is that the Government should be held to a higher standard than the populace, not a lower one.

      Cowards like you are a big part of why we can't have nice government.

      1See Graeber & Wengrow, The Dawn of Everything, on the intellectual debt to Indigenous thinkers in European and European-derived political theory. Bell attacks G&W on this matter in a piece in Persuasion, but I am not persuaded. (And I have some small background in this area myself; I agree with Bell that there are considerable internal contributions to the development of European liberalism, such as the Reformation, anti-monarchism, and the rise of the bourgeoisie, but if G&W perhaps overstate the significance of the Indigenous critique, that does not mean it was not still considerable. And, importantly for my argument here, it was even more influential in the US in the nineteenth century, which is outside Bell's area.)

  4. chuckufarley Silver badge

    Enacting a law in one thing...

    ...Enforcing the law is another.

    1. Michael Wojcik Silver badge

      Re: Enacting a law in one thing...

      But it starts with the law. Without that, there's no hope of any restraint. The law serves as a signal to the Executive that the People are unhappy at their excess, and that there might, eventually, be some consequences for it.

      1. amanfromMars 1 Silver badge

        Re: Enacting a law in one thing...

        But it starts with the law. Without that, there's no hope of any restraint. The law serves as a signal to the Executive that the People are unhappy at their excess, and that there might, eventually, be some consequences for it. .... Michael Wojcik

        If that be the case, MW, the Executives of the Wild Wacky West will rightly be/should rightly be absolutely terrified for themselves ...... given the abuses they ply and generate profit and pleasure from. And with the speed that the world is experiencing in the sudden unauthorised and totally unexpected release of sensitive and secret and unpleasant and unfortunate data/accurate information/honest intelligence, is the end indeed nigh for such as be Executive terrorists and renegade rogue wannabe Caesars.

  5. 43300 Silver badge

    I don't imagine it makes much difference to the security services whether snooping / data acquisition is something they are technically allowed to do - they will likely do it anyway (in pretty much all countries).

  6. DS999 Silver badge

    Easy to get around

    If there's a ban on PAYING data brokers, you offer them something in trade so they are "giving" you the data.

    Alternatively, if you're the CIA you set up a front company which buys the stuff and gives it to the CIA. Or maybe if the ban is on using taxpayer funds to buy the data you use seized drug money to pay for it so it isn't taxpayer funded.

    They will find ways around it.

    The sad thing is that it is still perfectly legal for companies to buy/sell my data, the only ban is on the government buying it. While I'm not a fan of that by any means, I'm less worried about the government buying my data than some shady company who has profit as their only motive. My real gripe that is companies are allowed to SELL it to ANYONE, not to whether the buyer has some of my interests at heart (the government) versus none of them (any other company)

    1. aerogems Silver badge

      Re: Easy to get around

      If there's a ban on PAYING data brokers, you offer them something in trade so they are "giving" you the data.

      Not trying to shoot the messenger or anything, but I think most judges would say bartering is just another form of payment.

      Alternatively, if you're the CIA you set up a front company which buys the stuff and gives it to the CIA. Or maybe if the ban is on using taxpayer funds to buy the data you use seized drug money to pay for it so it isn't taxpayer funded.

      Not that it's stopped the CIA in the past, but anything they may seize as part of some operation would be evidence and can't be touched. After all appeals and whatnot have been exhausted, maybe, but I think they are supposed to turn it over to the Treasury Department at that point.

      1. Michael Wojcik Silver badge

        Re: Easy to get around

        Yes. The courts recognize quid pro quo for what it is. It's odd that anyone who pays even a little attention might think otherwise.

        And once again, we see someone (OP) arguing that if we can't have perfection, we might as well have nothing at all. It's the antipolitics of defeatism.

    2. Henry Wertz 1 Gold badge

      Re: Easy to get around

      What the spammers did for several years was say "Your E-Mail address will not be sold". So they would "rent" the E-Mail address list instead.

      I don't know if the REASONING is sound -- some of the current zeal to pull back surveillance powers is like Trump supporters in office "Well, these federal powers re being used to mess with Trump, so lets mess with the powers of these federal agencies." Instead of the constitutional and privacy concerns.

      But indeed, these agencies have been using private data brokers to look up information they should have a warrant to get themselves, but can be bought for a price instead (along with being caught red-handed performing completely illegal warrantless surveillance -- clear just based on statistics comparing number of warrants, even the FISA court warrants which were deisgned to be streamlined so they'd actually get a warrant, not being even close to the number needed to match up with the rest of the statistics they've released.)

      So this is a good start. They REALLY need to consider better privacy laws too, they are pretty weak in the US, and companies can and do sell any information they have on you to these data brokers.

    3. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Easy to get around

      Hear hear. This bill doesn't go near far enough - ban data brokering entirely!

  7. aerogems Silver badge

    While I'm sure at the level of POTUS security briefings there are details about threats that we are all completely oblivious to which would probably take years off of our lives knowing just how close we came to various kinds of destruction, I'm still very much in favor of this. Go to a fucking judge, present your case, get a fucking warrant. I mean, if you're using roundabout methods like buying a bunch of aggregated data from brokers, this clearly isn't part of some imminent terrorist threat or anything like that. It's likely part of a fishing expedition to try to find something on someone you suspect of doing things, but don't have enough to show probable cause. Buying info from data brokers is defeating the spirit of the law with the letter of the law.

  8. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    The only privacy-minded presidential candidate...

    ..the only one who even mentioned privacy or 4th amendment as it applies in the internet age, was Bernie Sanders. We're going to continue being bent over a chair.

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