Vote on limiting NSA phone surveillance expected Wednesday

Josh Peterson Tech Editor
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U.S. lawmakers may very well be one step closer to bringing across-the-board U.S. government phone surveillance to an end.

The House of Representatives is expected to vote Wednesday on an amendment to next year’s defense appropriations bill that would defund the National Security Agency’s bulk collection of people’s phone metadata not under investigation for international terrorism or foreign intelligence.

According to the revised amendment’s summary available on the House Rules Committee website, the amendment “bars authority for the blanket collection of records under the Patriot Act.”

It further “bars the NSA and other agencies from using Section 215 of the Patriot Act to collect records, including telephone call records, that pertain to persons who are not subject to an investigation under Section 215,” continues the summary.

The broad scope of the NSA’s surveillance, enabled by Section 215, was first revealed in early June by former NSA contractor Edward Snowden.

Since the revelations were first made public, the secretive agency has been the subject of global controversy.

The amendment was first proposed by Michigan Republican Rep. Justin Amash, a fierce civil libertarian and opponent of U.S. agencies engaged in unconstitutional warrantless surveillance.

Republican Reps. Mick Mulvaney of South Carolina and Thomas Massie of Kentucky, and Democratic Reps. John Conyers of Michigan and Jared Polis of Colorado, are also co-sponsors of the Amash amendment.

The House Rules Committee departed from normal procedure to solicit amendments in written form as part of an attempt to limit what would be attached to the bill.

Senior officials from the U.S. intelligence committee have pushed back hard against allegations that the collection program violates the Fourth Amendment of the Constitution, which guards against unreasonable searches and seizures.

Congressional leaders, concerned over the effect Amash’s amendment could have on the effectiveness of the surveillance programs, delayed a vote on the defense bill until this week.

NSA director, General Keith Alexander, headed to Capitol Hill Tuesday afternoon for a “members-only briefing set up by the House Intelligence Committee” to lobby against Amash’s amendment, reports The Hill.

U.S. activists, organized by the digital advocacy group Demand Progress, rallied online Tuesday to petition their representatives to support Amash’s amendment.

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