A divided House had its first Congressional showdown over the National Security Agency’s surveillance activities on Wednesday, July 24. The 205-to-2017 vote defeated legislation that would have blocked the N.S.A. from collecting vast amounts of phone records.
The classified intelligence program has never been discussed openly on the House floor. Debates ensued and some unusual coalitions took shape. Conservative Republicans teamed up with liberal Democrats to oppose the practices of the N.S.A. and push for legislation that would rein in the intrusive intelligence programs. On the flip side, the Obama administration, not normally friends of the House Republican leadership, joined with them in order to block the legislation.
Representatives Justin Amash, a liberatarian Republican, and John Conyers Jr., a liberal Democrat, can be held responsible for pitting Democrat against Democrat and Republican against Republican on the House floor by writing the legislation that would have limited the N.S.A.’s access of phone records to specific targets of law enforcement investigations. Not the broad dragnets couched as “metadata” collection currently being practiced by the N.S.A.
Although the legislation pitted normal allies against each other, it did create a bipartisan vote on the House floor. Advocates for the legislation have claimed that this is just the first proposal against the N.S.A.’s practices and that many more will follow. Defenders of the N.S.A.’s practices claim that putting the brakes on the agency will cause the nation to be a risk.
Representative F. James Sensenbrenner Jr. (R-WI), one of the principal authors of the Patriot Act which has given the N.S.A. its power to collect phone records and other data on American citizens, says that the Patriot Act was never meant to create a program that demands the phone records of every American. “The time has come to stop it,” he said.
An open letter in support of the recently disclosed N.S.A. Programs was circulated to undecided members of the House. It attempted the use of scare tactics to urge lawmakers to allow the program to continue.
It read: “Denying the NSA such access to data will leave the Nation at risk. If the relevance standard of section 215 [Patriot Act] does not permit the government to acquire large data collections where necessary to preserve the data and to be able to conduct focused queries based on reasonable suspicion, our counter terrorism capabilities will be severely constrained.”
There is no telling if the open letter had an effect on the undecided members of the House. As it stands right now, the N.S.A. can continue with its dragnet programs.
What do you think? How secure do you feel as your data is collected under the guise of “national security?”