The Amash-Conyers amendment to the 2014 Defense Appropriations Bill is the first legislative attempt to reign in the NSA’s bulk surveillance of Americans since the surveillance was first revealed in June. According to Wikipedia, the amendment:
- “sought to bar the NSA and other agencies from using Section 215 of the Patriot Act to collect records”, thereby ending the mass surveillance of Americans. Instead, it permitted “the FISA court under Sec. 215 to order the production of records that pertain only to a person under investigation”.
- would have permitted the continued use of business records and other “tangible things” if the data were “actually related to an authorized counter-terrorism investigation”.
- would have required judicial oversight with “a substantive, statutory standard to apply to make sure the NSA does not violate Americans’ civil liberties”.
The amendment lost by a vote of 217 to 205 with each party split on the issue. I wrote to Rep. Noem regarding her vote, and in her response she stated that “while I believe the Amash amendment went too far, I am in full support of further safeguarding our right to privacy and clearly drawing the line for federal agencies at the doorstep of the Fourth Amendment to the Constitution.”
Fair enough, but I do have a couple of concerns. First, in her response to me, Rep Noem attempts to placate the NSA’s surveillance by pointing out that only metadata, and not content of calls is collected. I don’t think our elected representatives truly understand how revealing metadata can be with today’s data mining technologies.
Lastly, in her response to me, Rep Noem states that, “These programs have effectively disrupted 54 terrorist plots in over 20 countries, including the 2009 attempt to bomb the New York City subway system.” This is a misleading statement, but I don’t know if it was intentional or not. The Amash-Conyers amendment dealt with Section 215 of the Patriot Act, of which Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.), a member of the Senate Intelligence Committee with access to classified details about the program, said there is no evidence that the data collection had been directly responsible for stopping any single plot. So either Rep Noem is using some Washington word play to mislead constituents, or she was misled by General Keith Alexander during an “emergency” four-hour briefing for House members prior to the vote.