House Republican Introduces Backup Plan to Squash NSA Phone Spying

Rep. Justin Amash, the tea-party lawmaker and frequent critic of the National Security Agency, wants to force a vote on the USA Freedom Act this week.

U.S. Rep. Justin Amash, R-Mich., participates in a House Foreign Affairs Committee hearing about. the War Powers Act on May, 25, 2011 in Washington, DC. The committee was hearing testimony on the War Powers Act and the U.S. involvement with operations in Libya.
National Journal
Dustin Volz
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Dustin Volz
May 20, 2014, 1 a.m.

A tea-party law­maker is of­fer­ing an amend­ment to pro­tect a gov­ern­ment-sur­veil­lance re­form bill from be­ing hol­lowed out due to pres­sure from the Obama ad­min­is­tra­tion and na­tion­al-se­cur­ity hawks.

Rep. Justin Amash filed an amend­ment Monday that would take a key sec­tion of the USA Free­dom Act — which aims to ef­fect­ively end the gov­ern­ment’s mass col­lec­tion of Amer­ic­ans’ phone re­cords — and strap it onto the Na­tion­al De­fense Au­thor­iz­a­tion Act, an an­nu­al fund­ing bill that Con­gress will vote on later this week. The Amash amend­ment would strip fund­ing from in­tel­li­gence pro­grams jus­ti­fied un­der Sec­tion 215 of the post-9/11 Pat­ri­ot Act ex­cept in cer­tain cir­cum­stances, an anti-spy­ing move re­min­is­cent of one the Michigan Re­pub­lic­an pulled last sum­mer.

The amend­ment, offered to the Rules Com­mit­tee, is meant as a fail-safe in the event the Free­dom Act does not also come up for con­sid­er­a­tion this week in its cur­rent form or something closely re­sem­bling it, said Will Adams, Amash’s chief of staff. House lead­er­ship has sched­uled the bill for “pos­sible con­sid­er­a­tion” this week, but back­door deal­ings that may change it con­tin­ued through the week­end and spilled in­to this week.

“If ne­go­ti­ations keep drag­ging on and we don’t get con­sid­er­a­tion of the Free­dom Act this week, we will use our op­por­tun­ity to move with the NDAA le­gis­la­tion an amend­ment that would ad­dress NSA sur­veil­lance,” Adams said.

The Rules pan­el is sched­uled to con­sider the rules of de­bate on the NDAA bill Tues­day, at which time it will de­cide wheth­er to ac­cept Amash’s amend­ment.

House lead­er­ship and White House of­fi­cials have been meet­ing with se­lect law­makers to dis­cuss pos­sible changes to the Free­dom Act, which was passed through both the House Ju­di­ciary and In­tel­li­gence com­mit­tees in an amended form two weeks ago. Those talks con­tin­ued Monday, but sources say the bill could lose some of its cur­rent pri­vacy and trans­par­ency pro­tec­tions. Fears that the bill could get watered down fur­ther have promp­ted some of the bill’s sup­port­ers to warn that their sup­port hangs in the bal­ance.

“Ef­forts to weak­en the ban [on bulk col­lec­tion of phone re­cords] could drive away the civil-liber­ties groups that now sup­port the bill,” said Greg No­jeim, dir­ect­or of the Cen­ter for Demo­cracy and Tech­no­logy’s pro­ject on free­dom, se­cur­ity and tech­no­logy.

A sec­tion that al­lows tech com­pan­ies more lee­way in re­port­ing to cus­tom­ers the re­quests for user data it re­ceives from the gov­ern­ment is among the changes be­lieved to be still sub­ject to ne­go­ti­ation. Also in con­ten­tion is how nar­rowly in­tel­li­gence agen­cies should be re­quired to define se­lec­ted tar­gets when data searches are con­duc­ted.

Amash gained no­tori­ety last sum­mer for his ag­gress­ive op­pos­i­tion to NSA spy­ing in the wake of Ed­ward Snowden’s dis­clos­ures. In Ju­ly, he offered an amend­ment to a De­part­ment of De­fense ap­pro­pri­ations bill that would have stripped the NSA of fund­ing for its phone-spy­ing pro­gram. The meas­ure, op­posed by House lead­er­ship, nar­rowly fell 205-217.

In ad­di­tion to Amash’s plan, Rep. Zoe Lof­gren has offered an NDAA amend­ment that would set a prob­able-cause stand­ard for the search of U.S. com­mu­nic­a­tions un­der Sec­tion 702 of the For­eign In­tel­li­gence Sur­veil­lance Act, and an­oth­er that would pro­hib­it in­tel­li­gence agen­cies from re­quir­ing device man­u­fac­tur­ers or soft­ware de­velopers to build an en­cryp­tion “back­door” in­to their products.

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