The US House of Representatives came within a few votes of passing a novel amendment that attempted to strike out funding for the highly contentious NSA calling records surveillance program. Under this program, the NSA acquires the records of who you called, when you called, and how long you spoke—for all calls made within the United States, including international, long distance, and even local.
The amendment was part of the Defense Appropriations Bill (basically, the budget for the Department of Defense, of which NSA is a part), and was eloquently supported by a bipartisan coalition of Reps. Justin Amash, John Conyers, Jr., Thomas Massie, Mick Mulvaney, and Jared Polis. The push by Rep. Amash was a great step forward and comes in the wake of a combative House Judiciary hearing during which many members voiced opposition to unconstitutional NSA spying.
Unfortunately, Congress was unable to muster the votes to pass this important amendment. The amendment failed, with an extremely close vote of 205 to 217.
"This amendment reflected the deep discomfort of Americans who don’t want the government collecting data on them indiscriminately. This type of surveillance is unnecessary and unconstitutional, a needless return to the general warrants that our country’s founders fought against," said Kurt Opsahl, EFF Senior Staff Attorney.
The principal author of the PATRIOT Act in 2001, Rep. Sensenbrenner, was among the strongest supporters of the Amash amendment, urging his fellow Congress members to support this effort to rein in NSA: "The time has come to stop it and the way we stop it is to approve this amendment."
"We were heartened by the many supporters from across the country who called their representative to support the amendment, laying the foundation for further Congressional action to investigate the NSA spying and enact greater privacy protections," said Rainey Reitman, EFF Activism Director.
Congress may not have stood up against the mass spying today, but the fight is not over. Earlier this month, EFF filed First Unitarian v. NSA to stop the spying and get the judiciary to rule that the call records program is illegal and unconstitutional. And earlier this month, a federal court rejected the government’s assertion of the state secrets privilege in Jewel v. NSA, allowing that case to continue.
EFF will continue to push Congress to rein in unconstitutional surveillance. Please add your name to our campaign by signing Stopwatching.us.