Earlier this week I noted with approval Rep. Justin Amash’s effort in the House to add an amendment to an upcoming defense appropriations bill that would block NSA’s “indiscriminate collection” of Americans’ telephone records by “limit[ing] the government’s collection of records under Section 215 of the Patriot Act to those records that pertain to a person who is subject to an investigation under that provision.”
Instead of abiding by the Fourth Amendment, which requires individualized warrants, “probable cause…and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized,” the NSA has collected all Americans’ telephone data and stored it. The rationale given by NSA Director General Keith Alexander is that “you need the haystack to find the needle.”
Amash’s amendment would restrict this method. And it’s being voted on today.
I’m not sure of the amendment’s chances for passage, but it is real enough that Keith Alexander met in closed door emergency meetings with key members of Congress to urge them not to support it. To boot, President Obama issued a statement opposing the legislation, saying it is a “blunt approach [that] is not the product of an informed, open, or deliberative process.” Right, because a vote in the House of Representatives isn’t “open” and “deliberative” compared to the completely secret violation of the Constitution without the knowledge of the American people or most of Congress. Because, seriously, Obama “welcomes the debate” [that never would have happened without the leak he has condemned].
The Atlantic‘s Conor Friedersdorf writes that this vote is “a significant, potentially history-altering effort to rein in the surveillance state built in secret by the executive branch,” mainly because “America will have every Congressional representative on record either supporting or opposing the surveillance state’s collection of customer data on all phone calls,” whether or not it succeeds.
The ACLU’s Alexander Abdo says the Amash amendment would be a “vital shield form unwarranted NSA surveillance.”