The PJ Tatler

Amash Tries to Cut NSA Funds to Collect Phone Records

The White House freaked out over an amendment to the defense reauthorization bill from libertarian Rep. Justin Amash (R-Mich.) that would stop the National Security Agency’s mass collection of phone records.

Press secretary Jay Carney took the unusual step last night of issuing a statement in opposition to the amendment as the House plowed through add-ons to the bill late into the evening.

“In light of the recent unauthorized disclosures, the President has said that he welcomes a debate about how best to simultaneously safeguard both our national security and the privacy of our citizens. The Administration has taken various proactive steps to advance this debate including the President’s meeting with the Privacy and Civil Liberties Oversight Board, his public statements on the disclosed programs, the Office of the Director of National Intelligence’s release of its own public statements, ODNI General Counsel Bob Litt’s speech at Brookings, and ODNI’s decision to declassify and disclose publicly that the Administration filed an application with the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court. We look forward to continuing to discuss these critical issues with the American people and the Congress,” Carney said in the statement.

“However, we oppose the current effort in the House to hastily dismantle one of our Intelligence Community’s counterterrorism tools. This blunt approach is not the product of an informed, open, or deliberative process. We urge the House to reject the Amash Amendment, and instead move forward with an approach that appropriately takes into account the need for a reasoned review of what tools can best secure the nation.”

The White House had an ally in the Republican chairmen of the House Intelligence, Judiciary, Homeland Security and Foreign Affairs committees, who have been circulating a “dear colleague” letter asking members to oppose the Amash amendment.

“This amendment would preclude the use of certain call records except when named individuals are subject to an investigation and court order. This amendment would also have the effect of precluding the use of section 501 by the FBI to obtain an individual order for any business record (not just telephone data) about a person associated with someone who is the subject of an authorized investigation,” wrote Reps. Mike Rogers (R-Mich.), Bob Goodlatte (R-Va.), Mike McCaul (R-Texas) and Ed Royce (R-Calif.).

“While many Members have legitimate questions about the NSA metadata program, including whether there are sufficient protections for Americans’ civil liberties, eliminating this program altogether without careful deliberation would not reflect our duty, under Article I of the Constitution, to provide for the common defense. Furthermore, the Amash amendment would have unintended consequences for the intelligence and law enforcement communities beyond the metadata program,” they continued.

“We are committed to assisting all of our colleagues in reviewing this program, and we will continue to develop appropriate additional protections. We believe such changes should recognize both the privacy interests and security needs of every American, while reflecting actual intelligence and law enforcement operations. Any such changes ought to proceed through a regular legislative process so the effects can be understood and debated fully.  A funds limitation provision on an appropriations bill is simply not the best way for Members to address their concerns about this program.”

The amendment is on the leader’s daily schedule for debate today. A vote could happen today or tomorrow.

Amash was delighted by the White House attention: