In the United States, a proposal pushed forward by Rep. Justin Amash to amend the 2014 Defense Appropriations Bill has been narrowly defeated in the House. The proposal would have served to rein in how the U.S. National Security Agency (NSA) collects domestic phone records on a massive scale. The vote was 205 in favor of the amendment to 217 opposed.
The defeat of the amendment was said (by the Washington Post) to be “a victory for the Obama administration”. The government has been publicly defending the formerly secret program ever since the extent of the it was revealed in the media, and international outrage over the NSA’s collection of private data ensued. The Obama administration has been arguing that the program is a necessary strategy to help keep Americans safe from the threat of terrorism. This position has been met by widespread criticism both domestically and internationally.
Rather ironically, while rallying opposition to the amendment before the vote, the White House labeled the amendment a “blunt approach”, and not “the product of an informed, open, or deliberative process”, TechCrunch has pointed out. After all, the apparent growth and extent of the NSA’s surveillance, overseen by a secret court, and revealed by Edward Snowden, has certainly not been the product of such a process, and amounts to a blunt “collect it all” approach.
As you can see from the above numbers, the vote was pretty close. Notably, 94 Republicans and 111 Democrats voted in favor of the amendment, and 134 Republicans and 83 Democrats opposed it – so it is by no means a partisan issue.
If nothing else, the vote proved that it may actually be possible to successfully wind back the program with a later challenge, if public and political pressure continues; although, world history suggests that it is next to impossible to get governments to rein in such programs (powers) after they are installed. The NSA together with the White House certainly seemed concerned that the amendment might pass, as a formal statement from the White House was issued, and the head of the NSA (General Alexander) personally gave briefings to the House Democrats and Republicans leading up to the vote.
On another front, there is a coalition of groups led by the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) using the courts to sue the NSA over the legality of its mass surveillance program. They are contending that the program violates their First Amendment right of association by illegally collecting their call records.
Image CC licensed by Gage Skidmore: Rep. Justin Amash