This week congress quietly passed a bill that may give unprecedented authority to the government's warrantless surveillance powers, despite last minute efforts from Representative Justin Amash [R, MI] to kill the bill. Amash warned that the 47 page intelligence bill gives unprecedented authority to the executive branch to access the communications of every American. The provision in question is “one of the most egregious sections of law I’ve encountered during my time as a representative,” Amash wrote on his Facebook page. On Tuesday the measure passed the Senate by unanimous consent and it is now on its way to the White House, where President Obama is expected to sign it.
Amash staged an eleven hour rally Wednesday night in an effort to block the passage of the Intelligence Authorization Act Bill. Amash also went to the House floor on Wednesday to demand a roll call vote on the bill and sent a letter to each representative to urge their action against the vote. Read Letter Here
The objections from Amash, along with others, arose from language in the bill’s Section 309, which includes a phrase to allow for “the acquisition, retention, and dissemination” of U.S. phone and Internet data. Basically, the passage gives unprecedented statutory authority to allow for the surveillance of private communications that currently exists only under a decades-old presidential decree, Executive Order 12333 (National Archives)
Such a measure was snuck in at the last minute. “If this hadn’t been snuck in, I doubt it would have passed,” said Rep. Zoe Lofgren, a California Democrat who voted against the bill. “A lot of members were not even aware that this new provision had been inserted last-minute. Had we been given an additional day, we may have stopped it.” Representative Lofgren believes that the Senate Intelligence Committee was the source of the language.
Supporters of the section argue that it would limit to five years the amount of time communications data could be kept at intelligence agencies, with certain exceptions permitting. Yet it is generally acknowledged that such data is rarely kept beyond five years, which Amash characterized as a trade-off that “provides a novel statutory basis for the executive branch’s capture and use of Americans’ private communications.” In other words, five years is not much of a limitation when the data is rarely kept that long anyways.
In September, four House Democrats asked the Obama administration to make public "all current and future legal opinions or interpretations" concerning 12333, a request that thus far has gone unheeded. In their letter, Reps. Conyers, Lofgren, Alan Grayson, and Rush Holt join with a number of privacy groups to express concerns about the order, saying that "secret law is a threat to democracy." Earlier this year, the Privacy and Civil Liberties Oversight Board also announced it would begin a review of the legality of 12333.
OFFICIAL BILL AND VOTES
Read the Intelligence Bill (H.R. 4681)
Vote Details: Yeas and Nays, Official Results on House Website
Vote Details on Gov. Tracker
Official Home Page
Representative Amash's Letter to Congress Against the Intelligence Bill (Global Research)
EXECUTIVE ORDER 12333
Executive Order 12333 (National Archives)
Tell Obama: Stop Mass Surveillance Under Executive Order 12333 (EFF Petition)
Congress Quietly Bolsters NSA Spying in Intelligence Bill (Defense One, 12-11-14)