In a close but ultimately unsuccessful vote during consideration of the Department of Defense Appropriations Act (H.R. 2397) yesterday, 205 members of the House of Representatives voted to curtail the National Security Agency’s (NSA) ability to collect Americans’ phone data. The amendment— offered by Representative Justin Amash (R-Mich.) with bipartisan co-sponsorship from Reps. John Conyers, Jr. (D-Mich.), Thomas Massie (R-Ky.), Mick Mulvaney (R-S.C.), and Jared Polis (D-Colo.)— sought to limit the government’s collection of records under Section 215 of the USA PATRIOT Act to those records that pertain to a person who is subject to an investigation under that provision. Though defeated by a narrow margin of 205-217, the Amash amendment signaled growing opposition to the NSA’s broad surveillance program.
Notably, a principal author of the USA PATRIOT Act in 2001, Representative Jim Sensenbrenner (R-Wis.), urged his colleagues to rein in the NSA’s data collection program stating on the floor, “The time has come to stop it and the way we stop it is to approve this amendment.” The vote also made for interesting bedfellows with a majority of Democrats voting in support of the amendment and the majority of Republicans joining the White House to oppose the effort. The close vote suggests a burgeoning bipartisan contingent of lawmakers willing to place new limits on the federal government’s national security program for the first time in post-9/11 policy.
As we’ve said in our responses to the news of the NSA’s surveillance programs, AALL strongly supports a comprehensive national and state framework for privacy protection to safeguard the rights of Americans. To this end, AALL will continue to work in support of those Congressional efforts that would reform the PATRIOT Act to balance the government’s interest in protecting national security with defending the constitutional rights of the American people. See our 113th Congress Bill Tracking Chart for more on our work.
If your representative voted in favor of the amendment, please take a moment to thank him or her. Please also join the Government Relations Office on August 7 from 12:00-12:30pm EDT for a complimentary online training to learn more about how you can influence your members of Congress to support surveillance reform and our other policy priorities during the August recess. Register online by August 5.