In less than 24 hours the U.S. Congress will vote on an amendment that could help put an end to the National Security Agency’s bulk collection of telecommunications metadata, offering the first legislative opportunity to begin to rein in U.S. government’s massive spying program.
The amendment, offered by U.S. Representatives Justin Amash and John Conyers, attempts to limit the scope of the NSA’s metadata snooping while allowing the government to continue to undertake legitimate investigations into national security concerns by imposing restrictions on funding for the implementation of court orders issued by the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court pertaining to Section 215 of the U.S. PATRIOT Act.
The Amash-Conyers amendment creates limitations on the extent to which the NSA can use its massive data collection abilities against innocent people. By restricting funding for data collection to only the specific subjects of an investigation, the amendment ensures the NSA would no longer be able to use FISC 215 orders to conduct indiscriminate ‘multiple hop’ investigations of broad communications networks — ‘hops’ that sweep up the records of potentially millions of U.S. citizens and foreign nationals.
Tomorrow’s vote could be a huge win. For the first time since news of the U.S. global surveillance scandal broke, members of the U.S. Congress will have to go on record about their support for the NSA’s unchecked spying on millions of people.
At Access, we see this as the first step towards real reform — and one that would have the possibility of substantively limiting the NSA’s surveillance of both Americans and non-Americans alike. We’re especially pleased that this legislation does not attempt to differentiate between the rights of U.S. citizens and non-U.S. persons: rather, it protects the fundamental privacy of individuals around the world by narrowing the scope of metadata surveillance altogether.
The NSA is not pleased by this turn of events. In response, the agency has called a top-secret emergency meeting today with members of Congress. Access expects they will use this meeting to try and convince the Members that the Amash-Conyers amendment will prevent the agency from doing its job — specifically that restrictions on investigatory relevance will prevent the NSA from doing the necessary network analysis it needs in order to uncover threats to U.S. national security.
Access does not believe this is true: we believe that sufficient legal mechanisms exist within the United States for the NSA to effectively carry out its mission — protecting the safety of American citizens. We’ll be getting into those alternate mechanisms soon in another blog post — after the rapid response this legislation demands.
In the meantime, we fully support the Amash-Conyers amendment as a first step towards comprehensive surveillance reform. And if you are eligible to vote in the United States, we urge you to call your Congressperson and demand they vote “YES” on the Amash-Conyers amendment to the Defense Appropriations Act (H.R. 2397) — please be sure to do so right away.