Rep. Justin Amash (R-Mich.) has proposed an amendment to the 2014 National defence Authorization Act to “end authority for the blanket collection of records under the Patriot Act,” causing swift preemptive responses from the White House and the NSA.The White House urged the House to reject the bill, and NSA Direct Gen. Keith B. Alexander called an “emergency” question and answer session which was at the “Top Secret/SCI level and … strictly Members-Only.”
The amendment would significantly restrain the spy agency‘s domestic spying apparatus, which has been collecting data on almost all U.S. phone calls with court orders since 2001. In all, the NSA has been allowed to “intercept and store 1.7 billion emails, phone calls, and other types of communications” every day.
The Amash amendment would limit the collection of phone metadata to situations in which an individual “is the subject of an investigation described in section 501 of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act.”
Metadata does not include the content of calls (which are also collected and stored) but does have the potential to track a person’s movements and associations. The ACLU has filed a lawsuit challenging the constitutionality of the bulk collection of metadata.
Gen. Alexander, the most powerful man in the history of American intelligence, argues: “You need the haystack to find the needle.”
“If we do not seize this unique moment in our constitutional history to reform our surveillance laws and practices, we will live to regret it.”
As then-Senator Joe Biden said in 2006: “[T]he real question here is: What do they do with this information that they collect that does not have anything to do with Al Qaeda?”
Initially top U.S. officials dissembled about the bulk phone data collection program.
During the March 12, hearing Senator Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) asked Director of National Intelligence James Clapper, “Does the NSA collect any type of data at all on millions or hundreds of millions of Americans?”
“No, sir,” Clapper replied.
Weeks later he admitted that his answer was “clearly erroneous” after the Guardian published evidence, acquired from NSA contractor Edward Snowden, that the NSA was compelling Verizon to provide phone records on millions of Americans.
On June 13 Rep. Jerrold Nadler (D-NY) asked FBI Director Robert Mueller what the NSA needs to listen to the content of a domestic phone call.
Mueller said: “Then you would have to get a special, a particularized order from the FISA Court directed at that particular phone and that particular individual.”
But on June 21 Glenn Greenwald and Mike Ball published top secret procedures reveal that it’s largely up to the discretion of NSA analysts — as opposed to their superiors or the courts — to decide when to listen to U.S. phone calls collected en masse.
President Obama himself told the American people: “No one is listening to your phone calls.”
But according to Russ Tice, the original NSA whistleblower, in the summer of 2004 someone was listening to Obama’s phone calls after a NSA wiretap was ordered for then-Senator of Illinois.
Tice added that he also saw orders to spy on Hillary Clinton, Senators John McCain and Diane Feinstein, then-Secretary of State Colin Powell, Gen. David Petraeus, and a current Supreme Court Justice Samuel Alito.
Here’s what Amash said last night, citing the dubious constitutionality of the NSA’s domestic dragnet:
Pres Obama opposes my #NSA amendment, but American people overwhelmingly support it. Will your Rep stand with the WH or the Constitution?
— Justin Amash (@repjustinamash) July 24, 2013
We’ll keep you updated on the path of the amendment.
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