More Snowden Effect: Grayson amendment protects security standards from NSA

National Security Agency headquarters, Fort Meade, Maryland. Photo credit: Wikimedia Commons.

Add another notch to the Snowden Effect.

In the wake of revelations that the NSA was subverting technical standards on which the Internet relies — making everyone less secure and undermining the encryption standards we rely on — Congress is pursuing a new batch of reforms, and not just through the USA FREEDOM Act.

A few weeks ago, Sunlight helped get an amendment passed to the FIRST act, removing the old requirement that the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) consult with the NSA for technical standards.

Last night saw another significant step — again in an amendment — this time to the Department of Defense appropriations bill. The amendment limits the NSA’s use of funds to activities that improve information security, building a significant barrier to its ability to weaken security and encryption standards.

You can see the debate on the amendment here (at 11:09 a.m. ET). Inexplicably, Rep. Rodney Frelinghuysen, R-N.J., Chair of the Defense Appropriations Subcommittee, denies that the NSA subverted technical standards at all, or that NIST’s reputation was harmed.

Regardless, an amendment introduced by Rep. Alan Grayson, D-Fla., has created an essential new consensus: Government’s role in propagating reliable security standards should trump any mandate to undermine them.

While we shouldn’t expect any single amendment to gut the intelligence agencies subterfuge, even on essential security standards, there’s reason to be optimistic.

The legislative apathy about intelligence activities that empowered the worst of the Snowden revelations is starting to erode. Now it’s time for the Senate to follow suit.