The House will soon be considering an amendment to the Defense appropriations bill that would impose much-needed limits on the NSA’s unconstitutional surveillance program that indiscriminately collects the phone records of millions of Americans.
With bipartisan sponsors Justin Amash (R-Mich) and John Conyers (D-Mich), the amendment would limit the federal government’s collection of records under Section 215 of the so-called Patriot Act to those that pertain to a person or organization that is already subject to an investigation under that provision. Under current practice initiated by the Bush Administration and continued into the Obama Administration, the government engaged in bulk acquisition, collection, storage, retention, and searching of telephone communications “metadata” for all phone calls using the networks of any of the major American telecom companies.
Every 90 days, the government tells the FISA (Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act) Court that it needs the data, no one is made aware of the request, no one provides an alternative view to the court, and it reliably gives permission for the collection to continue. No search warrants are required.
PFAW is among those organizations that have filed suit in federal court against the program, arguing that it violates the First, Fourth, and Fifth Amendments.
The issue isn’t simply whether this program stops terrorism. The issue is the type of society we want to live in, and whether we will continue to adhere to the decisions of our nation’s founders that freedom is a paramount right that must be cherished. We decided in the 1790s that police cannot simply break into your home and conduct a search without a search warrant issued by a judge. Yes, it means that many crimes go unsolved, but it also means that we do not live in fear of a police state. Similarly, we adopted the First Amendment’s free speech protections knowing full well that we were giving license to noxious and even harmful speech. But that is the price of freedom.
PFAW is supporting the Amash Amendment, because we support the First, Fourth, and Fifth Amendments.
UPDATE: When it came up for a vote by the full House on July 24, the amendment failed by only 12 votes. The 205-217 vote showed strong support for the measure within both parties, with 94 Republicans and 111 Democrats voting in favor. When the amendment was first introduced, many thought it would be defeated easily. However, the close margin and significant level of bipartisan support took many by surprise, signaling that this issue is not going away.