Privacy-crushing language was quietly incorporated into the intelligence authorization bill that passed the Senate on Tuesday and the House on Wednesday. Critics say the legislation “blesses the warrantless collection, dissemination and five-year retention of everyday Americans’ phone and Internet communications.”
A surprised Rep Justin Amash (R-MI) rallied to block the Intelligence Authorization Act at the last minute, saying it would give congressional backing to an antiquated decree that gives the president broad surveillance authority.
Amash described the measure on his Facebook page as “one of the most egregious sections of law I’ve encountered during my time as a representative” and warned the measure “grants the executive branch virtually unlimited access to the communications of every American.” The congressman circulated a letter and demanded a roll call vote so that supporters would be forced to go on the record. The measure passed 325-100.
At issue is section 309 of the bill, which allows “the acquisition, retention, and dissemination” of phone and internet data. Nextgov explains: “That passage will give unprecedented statutory authority to allow for the surveillance of private communications that currently exists only under a decades-old presidential decree, known as Executive Order 12333.”
Tye warns that U.S. spy agencies can evade congressional oversight and use the order to scoop up vast amounts of American communications routinely routed through foreign cables and servers.
“It is good that Congress is trying to regulate 12333 activities,” Tye says. “But the language in this bill just endorses a terrible system that allows the NSA to take virtually everything Americans do online and use it however it wants according to the rules it writes.”
It’s not only Rep. Amash who is upset about the sneaky language.
“If this hadn’t been snuck in, I doubt it would have passed,” said Rep. Zoe Lofgren, a California Democrat who voted against the bill. “A lot of members were not even aware that this new provision had been inserted last-minute. Had we been given an additional day, we may have stopped it.”
Lofgren also pointed out the language was “the exact opposite of what the House passed this summer. Congress is authorizing something very questionable constitutionally.”
Amash’s chief of staff, Will Adams, said there will be pushback next session against the executive order. “All of this surveillance is done without any legal process,” Adams said. “It’s interesting that this provision gets rushed through the same week the same committee puts out its torture report that documents unsupervised and very troubling actions by our intelligence community,” Adams continued. “It’s an inopportune time to give the intelligence community even more surveillance power without court supervision and without congressional oversight.”
The language in question is believed to have been drafted and inserted into the bill by the Senate Intelligence Committee.