A debate on the protection of the constitutional right to privacy of all Americans’ phone records is happening Wednesday in Congress. Seldom does Congress conduct a debate on the Bill of Rights, yet today there will be discussion on the scope and application of the 4th Amendment of the Constitution dealing with phone records.
If Congressman Justin Amash (R-Michigan) loses this debate with President Barack Obama, then Congress will be on record opposing the clear language of the Constitution that forbids general warrants. If one looks back to the origins of the Revolutionary War, revered patriot James Otis lead protests against the British Monarchy issuing general warrants allowing the collection of information from the colonists without reason. Founding Father John Adams credited Otis’ actions and views as one of the inspirations of our Revolutionary War.
Rep. Amash has offered an amendment to the Defense Appropriations bill that would end National Security Agency’s (NSA) ability to issue blanket warrants for the phone records of all Americans. More specifically, the amendment limits the government’s collection of records under Section 215 of the Patriot Act to records pertaining to a person who is subject to an investigation under that provision of law.
Sources in the House tell Brietbart News that the vote is expected between 4 and 6pm Wednesday. The weight of the Obama Administration has been deployed to defeat this amendment.
As I reported yesterday, a senior House staffer told Breitbart News that “the Amash Amendment shuts down the NSA’s blanket collection of Americans’ telephone records. It is the only amendment to the Department of Defense appropriations bill that reins in NSA.” The staffer pointed out that this will be “the first time that members of the Senate or House will be put on the record on NSA’s surveillance program.” This is expected to be a vote to see where the House Republicans and Democrats are on the issue of limiting the authority of the NSA to spy on American citizens.
Since that piece, the whole weight of the Obama Administration national security team has been deployed to Capitol Hill to defeat the Amash Amendment. The Washington Examiner reported that “the White House took the rare step of releasing a statement opposing an amendment to a House bill Tuesday night, taking aim at a measure that would shut down significant parts of the National Security Agency‘s surveillance activities.” McClatchy reports that “Army Gen. Keith Alexander, the NSA’s director, met with several members of the House of Representatives, and he and NSA Deputy Director John Inglis were later seen going in to a closed-door meeting with the Senate Intelligence Committee.”
The Obama Administration is lobbying hard today to defeat the amendment. House staffers don’t recall the Obama Administration weighing in on an amendment to legislation on this scale in the House during President Obama’s tenure. Other House sources think the Administration is having an impact on some Democrats and the Administration’s efforts may thwart a strong bipartisan vote of support for the Amash Amendment.
Read more here.
Rep. Amash has been circulating a document obtained by Brietbart News that argues to House members “as you go home for August recess, you will be asked: Did you oppose the suspicionless collection of every American’s phone records? When you had the chance to stand up for Americans’ privacy, did you?”
The two page document in support of the “Amash-Conyers amendment” makes three arguments in support of the amendment:
First, it ends the mass surveillance of Americans. The government no longer is authorized under Sec. 215 to hold a pool of metadata on every phone call of every American. Second, the amendment permits the government to continue to acquire business records and other “tangible things” that are actually related to an authorized counterterrorism investigation. The government still has access to this tool under the amendment, but it’s forced to comply with the intent of Congress when it passed Sec. 215. Third, the amendment imposes more robust judicial oversight of NSA’s surveillance. The FISA court will be involved every time NSA searches Americans’ records, and the court will have a substantive, statutory standard to apply to make sure the NSA does not violate Americans’ civil liberties.
This is a classic David versus Goliath battle. Will the mighty Obama Administration win? Or will Rep. Amash win the vote and protect the American peoples’ 4th Amendment right against a general warrant to view all phone records?