The latest revelations concerning the National Security Agency (NSA) could potentially tip the balance in favor of a measure to prevent the intelligence agencies from broadly spying on Americans.
Last week, the Washington Post reported that the NSA had broken privacy rules 2,776 times over a 12-month period dating back to May 2012, pushing key lawmakers to call for increased congressional oversight of the surveillance programs.
Senate Judiciary Chairman Patrick Leahy (D-VT) announced plans for a hearing over the programs after the latest report, according to The Hill, and expressed concerns that Congress is “still not getting straight answers” from the administration and intelligence officials. And House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) called the Washington Post’s report “extremely disturbing” and called for more congressional oversight.
But the most interesting comments about the latest revelations came from Rep. Justin Amash (R-MI), who proposed an amendment last month that would have limited the NSA’s spying programs. The amendment, which was defeated by a very slim margin, would have denied funding to execute any FISA court order that isn’t specific to a person who is the subject of an actual investigation.
During an interview this weekend with CNN’s State of the Nation, Amash indicated that moods are changing in the House and that the result the next time around could be much different.
“I certainly heard from a number of my colleagues directly and through the media that they feel differently about the amendment now that if they had a second chance, yes, they might have voted yes on it,” Amash told CNN’s Candy Crowley.
“I’m hopeful that we’ll have another opportunity. It might not be exactly the same amendment. This was an amendment to an appropriations bill so it had to be written in a very particular way,” said Amash. “And I’m hopeful we’ll have a way to amend some kind of policy legislation in the future.”
Amash pointed out that Americans have been constantly lied to about oversight of the NSA surveillance programs by President Barack Obama, House Intelligence Committee Chairman Mike Rogers (R-MI) and the intelligence community.
“The system is not working. Americans were told by the chairman of the House Intelligence Committee that there were zero privacy violations, and we know that’s not true,” said Amash. “Americans were assured by the president and others that the FISA court had significant oversight, and we’ve heard from the chief judge of the FISA court who says that’s not true.”
“And Americans have been told that their records have not been collected, that they had no data collected by the director of national intelligence, and we found out that wasn’t true,” he added.
Some members of Congress have complained that the administration and intelligence officials have not been honest about the surveillance programs. Rep. Trey Gowdy (R-SC) expressed doubt that any of his colleagues was even briefed about the broken privacy rules before the Washington Post’s story.
There have been a few different measures introduced to reform sections of the PATRIOT Act that the NSA has used far beyond congressional intent to spy on Americans. Amash and Rep. John Conyers (D-MI) have introduced the LIBERT-E Act, legislation that would require intelligence and law enforcement agencies to obtain only records that are necessary to a specific investigation into terrorist activity.
Rep. James Sensenbrenner (R-WI), who introduced the PATRIOT Act in the days after 9/11, has suggested that Congress could refuse to renew the provisions of the law that the NSA is using to spy on Americans.
Sensenbrenner contends that the NSA is misusing the law, noting the provision is written only to allow access records relevant to ongoing investigations into terrorist activity. He has also called the NSA’s seizure of Americans’ phone records “excessive and Un-American.”