After failed NSA vote, Rep. Ross points way forward
A proposal to defund the National Security Agency’s spying program came close to passage last week. Proposed by Reps. Justin Amash, R-Mich., and John Conyers, D-Mich., the amendment to the Defense Department appropriations bill would have denied funding for warrantless surveillance of civilians authorized by Section 215 of the Patriot Act
While the amendment failed in a 205 to 217 vote, the fight is hardly over.
Just after the amendment’s defeat, Rep. Dennis Ross, R-Fla., noted on his congressional website that he is already sponsoring a bill, H.R. 2603, the Relevancy Act, that would permanently limit the powers of the NSA. Since the Amash amendment was to be tacked on to a spending bill, it would only be in effect for a year, and would have to be debated next year, and the next and the next.
Moreover, while the Amash amendment–described by Rep. John Culberson, R-Texas, as a “light switch”–would just shut off funding for certain FISA court orders, the Relevancy Act changes statutory law in key ways. By directly requiring federal investigators to focus on specific individuals, rather than broad groups, Ross’ bill makes it a bit more difficult for opponents of privacy.
The need for privacy reforms cannot be understated. Under the current “business records” section, the FBI can simply vacuum up huge swaths of data by submitting a request to a data provider. This completely short-circuits the idea of “probable cause.” Normally, a law enforcement officer would have to get a warrant to obtain your private information, on grounds that you’re actually the target of an investigation and they have reasonable suspicion to investigate you. Under existing business records law, they don’t even have to know you exist before gobbling up your information.
That’s a dangerous path to be on. Rep. Ross’ bill starts to set it right.