House NSA reformer: “There’s more than enough votes to pass the FREEDOM Act”

A leading critic of the NSA bulk data collection program says the votes exist in the House of Representatives to pass the USA FREEDOM Act, a sweeping measure that would end bulk data collection and protect Americans’ privacy rights.

Rep. Justin Amash (R-MI) told The Hill last week that he would offer an amendment to address the NSA bulk meta collection programs if the White House and House Intelligence Committee proposal fall short. Now that he’s had time to review them, the Michigan Republican believes the dueling measures don’t stop bulk data collection at all.

“The proposals from the White House and the Intelligence Committee don’t really make much of a difference. They don’t actually stop bulk collection,” Amash said in an interview on Wednesday. “They transfer where the data is held, but the government can still access it in basically the same way.”

Amash supports the USA FREEDOM Act, introduced in October by Rep. James Sensenbrenner (R-WI). This measure would not only end the bulk data collection program, it would also close loopholes the NSA could use to access Americans’ personal records.

The USA FREEDOM Act has broad, bipartisan support — a rarity in Washington these days — but it’s currently stalled in the House Judiciary Committee, though Amash notes that it has “a lot of support” from its members.

“It’s a pretty comprehensive bill, so it addresses a lot more than my amendment that I offered to the defense appropriations bill. But there’s more we can do,” Amash said. “There are other sections of the PATRIOT Act we need to look at to make sure we are ensuring that everyone’s rights are protected.”

The amendment Amash offered in July would have denied funding to execute a FISA court order that isn’t specific to a person at the center of an actual investigation. That amendment failed, unfortunately, though by a small margin. But as more disclosures came out about the reach of NSA spying, a number of members from both sides of the aisle expressed regret for their votes against it.

When asked whether he has the votes this time around to pass an amendment to limit the NSA, the Michigan Republican said, “Yes, we certainly do,” adding “[t]here’s more than enough votes to pass the FREEDOM Act.”

“The White House proposal and the Intelligence Committee proposal are simply an effort to stall the process,” Amash explained. “They don’t really do much, and it’s an effort to keep this issue going so that the President can continue to use the same system he’s been using without making any substantive changes.”

“So we’re going to push hard for the USA FREEDOM Act. And if we can’t get a vote on USA FREEDOM Act or something comparable, then we’ll use all legislative means to stop this invasion of people’s rights,” he added.

This was part of a broader conversation with Amash. You can read and/or listen to that discussion here.

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