Amash defense bill amendment seeks to defund overbroad NSA surveillance

Josh Peterson Tech Editor
Font Size:

Next year’s defense bill could include an amendment to limit the National Security Agency’s broad surveillance, but House leadership is trying to prevent amendments to the bill.

On Tuesday, Michigan Republican Rep. Justin Amash submitted to the House Committee on Rules an amendment to the Department of Defense Appropriations Act of 2014 that would limit the National Security Agency’s use of taxpayer funds under the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA).

A copy of the amendment submitted to the House Rules Committee, obtained by The Daily Caller, shows that data collection of “tangible things,” authorized by the so-called “business records” section of the law, would be limited to people described by the law.

“None of the funds made available by this Act may be used to collect tangible things (including telephone numbers dialed, telephone numbers of incoming calls, and the duration of calls) pursuant to an order under section 501 of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act of 1978 (50 U.S.C. 1861) if such things do not pertain to a person who is the subject of an investigation described in such section,” states the amendment.

The “business records section,” called Section 501, authorizes the FBI to seek a court order to gather “any tangible things” — “books, records, papers, documents, and other items” — “for an investigation to obtain foreign intelligence information not concerning a United States person or to protect against international terrorism or clandestine intelligence activities[.]”

The “business records section” goes on to state that an investigation of a United States person cannot be “conducted solely upon the basis of activities protected by the first amendment to the Constitution.”

Under the FISA “business records section,” investigations pertain to “a foreign power or an agent of a foreign power; the activities of a suspected agent of a foreign power who is the subject of such authorized investigation; or an individual in contact with, or known to, a suspected agent of a foreign power who is the subject of such authorized investigation.”

Among the first of many revelations provided by former National Security Agency contractor Edward Snowden through the Guardian was a top secret court order showing that the FBI was using the law to order Verizon to hand over to the National Security Agency the call records of all phone calls within the United States.

While much attention has been focused on Snowden’s asylum status since he first fled the U.S., the policy consequences of his actions are still reverberating on Capitol Hill.

Snowden revealed what he and many others in the U.S. have viewed as an unconstitutional breach of privacy guaranteed by the Fourth Amendment.

Monday on Twitter, Amash — who is part of a larger coalition looking to rein in the surveillance abuses of the intelligence community — called the defense bill the “most important bill this week.”

“Most important bill this week: DoD Approps. We can defund #NSA‘s unconstitutional spying on Americans–if House leaders allow amendments,” wrote Amash.

“The Pentagon spending bill typically attracts hundreds of amendments,” reported Defense News blog Intercepts on July 15.

To remedy the congestion, House Rules Committee Chairman Pete Sessions sent a “dear colleague” letter on July 11, which said, “The Committee on Rules may meet during the week of July 15, 2013 to consider a rule that may limit the amendment process for H.R. 2397, the Department of Defense Appropriations Act, 2014.”

“While this is not the traditional process for this bill, there are a number of sensitive and ongoing issues related to national security that are more appropriately handled through an orderly amendment process ensuring timely consideration of this important measure,” wrote Sessions.

Session’s letter called for a 2pm deadline on Tuesday, July 16.

The House Judiciary Committee is scheduled to hold an oversight hearing Wednesday morning at 10am ET entitled, “Oversight of the Administration’s use of FISA Authorities.”

The witness panel is expected to include representatives from the Justice Department, National Security Agency, Office of Director of National Intelligence and the FBI.

Follow Josh on Twitter