Are you worried that the United States is becoming a surveillance state? Would you like to see measures put in place to curb the civil government’s access to your private information? Do you think the civil government should be held accountable? If you answered yes to these questions, then you’ll be pleased as punch to hear that Representative Justin Amash proposed an amendment to a defense spending bill that would have effectively defunded the NSA’s phone record metadata collection. “Would have?” you say … Yes. You’ll be gravely disappointed to find out that the amendment was narrowly defeated in the House.
The proposal, sponsored by Rep. Justin Amash (R-Mich.), would have limited spending on phone surveillance to court orders from the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court against those who are the subject of an investigation. Essentially, it would have completely defunded the NSA’s controversial programs to collect telephone metadata on domestic calls placed by Americans.
That would have been nice. The fact that it was defeated means that there are still a huge number of officials and government interests dead set on an unfettered civil government free from all accountability. Obama chimed in, of course, against the amendment:
This blunt approach is not the product of an informed, open, or deliberative process. We urge the House to reject the Amash Amendment . . .
But the current approach of the surveillance state is, on the other hand, obviously the product of an informed, open, and deliberative process. Yeah. There was tons of open and transparent Congressional debate on how many of our civil liberties the NSA should be able to destroy in secret. As Alex Wilhelm said,
Naturally, the irony of [Obama’s] specific complaint resonates: The intelligence programs in question were not enacted with any of those forms of debate. To ask that their rescinding be held to a higher standard than their enacting is hubris of a real sort.
The silver lining is that the bill was only narrowly defeated. Perhaps there is a considerable amount of bi-partisan momentum building against the perceived excesses of the civil government’s surveillance state.
This battle is far from over. The Amash amendment was tame compared to Democratic Representative Rush Holt’s plan to repeal the PATRIOT Act. But unless more people start waking up and holding their representatives to the fire, his bill will probably also go gentle into that good night.