– Congress Guts Anti-NSA Spying Bill Beyond Recognition; Original Cosponsor Justin Amash Votes No (Liberty Blitzkrieg, May 22, 2014):
“It’s shameful that the president of the United States, the chairman of the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence, and the leaders of the country’s surveillance agencies refuse to accept consensus reforms that will keep our country safe while upholding the Constitution. And it mocks our system of government that they worked to gut key provisions of the Freedom Act behind closed doors.”
– Rep. Justin Amash of Michigan, original cosponsor of the USA Freedom Act
In what will come as no surprise to any of you, there are very few members of Congress I have even the slightest degree of respect for. However, Justin Amash is one of them.
Rep. Amash is 34 years old and was first elected to Congress in 2010. He has been on my radar screen for several years now as one of the few elected representatives who act more like statesmen than politicians. He has been on the right side of many civil liberties related issues, including his opposition to the NDAA’s provision that allows for the indefinite detention of American citizens without a trial. More recently, last summer he authored an anti-NSA amendment known as the “Amash Amendment,” which was defeated by establishment authoritarians in both political parties. I covered that story in my post: NSA Holds “Top Secret” Meeting to Stop Powerful Anti-Spying Amendment.
Being the fighter that he is, Amash regrouped and came back with an anti-NSA spying bill with some teeth to it: The USA Freedom Act. This bill concerned the establishment to such a degree that Senator Feinstein launched her own competing bill, which believe it or not, intended to codify the NSA’s unconstitutional practices into law.
In the end, what the status quo did was water down the once robust USA Freedom Act into oblivion. Don’t take my word for it, Justin Amash wrote the following on his Facebook page:
I am an original cosponsor of the Freedom Act, and I was involved in its drafting. At its best, the Freedom Act would have reined in the government’s unconstitutional domestic spying programs, ended the indiscriminate collection of Americans’ private records, and made the secret FISA court function more like a real court—with real arguments and real adversaries.
I was and am proud of the work our group, led by Rep. Jim Sensenbrenner, did to promote this legislation, as originally drafted.
However, the revised bill that makes its way to the House floor this morning doesn’t look much like the Freedom Act.
This morning’s bill maintains and codifies a large-scale, unconstitutional domestic spying program. It claims to end “bulk collection” of Americans’ data only in a very technical sense: The bill prohibits the government from, for example, ordering a telephone company to turn over all its call records every day.
But the bill was so weakened in behind-the-scenes negotiations over the last week that the government still can order—without probable cause—a telephone company to turn over all call records for “area code 616″ or for “phone calls made east of the Mississippi.” The bill green-lights the government’s massive data collection activities that sweep up Americans’ records in violation of the Fourth Amendment.
The bill does include a few modest improvements to current law. The secret FISA court that approves government surveillance must publish its most significant opinions so that Americans can have some idea of what surveillance the government is doing. The bill authorizes (but does not require) the FISA court to appoint lawyers to argue for Americans’ privacy rights, whereas the court now only hears from one side before ruling.
But while the original version of the Freedom Act allowed Sec. 215 of the Patriot Act to expire in June 2015, this morning’s bill extends the life of that controversial section for more than two years, through 2017.
I thank Judiciary Committee Chairman Bob Goodlatte for pursuing surveillance reform. I respect Rep. Jim Sensenbrenner and Rep. John Conyers for their work on this issue.
It’s shameful that the president of the United States, the chairman of the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence, and the leaders of the country’s surveillance agencies refuse to accept consensus reforms that will keep our country safe while upholding the Constitution. And it mocks our system of government that they worked to gut key provisions of the Freedom Act behind closed doors.
The American people demand that the Constitution be respected, that our rights and liberties be secured, and that the government stay out of our private lives. Fortunately, there is a growing group of representatives on both sides of the aisle who get it. In the 10 months since I proposed the Amash Amendment to end mass surveillance, we’ve made big gains.
We will succeed.
So it is this watered down, toothless bill that passed this morning. Just in case you still had any doubt what the cretins in Congress are all about. As Mark Twain famously stated:
“There is no distinctly American criminal class – except Congress.”