I recognize that I am in a minority here, but I think it’s important for us to discuss. The House recently voted on Representative Justin Amash’s bill that would have severely curbed the NSA’s program for spying on Americans. While we as Republicans are generally known as the Party of “Strength” both militarily and politically, I don’t think opposing the NSA spying program limits our governments effectiveness.
Rep. Amash’s amendment “which would be attached to the Pentagon’s spending bill, “ends authority for the blanket collection of records under the Patriot Act” and “bars the NSA and other agencies from using Section 215 of the Patriot Act to collect records, including telephone call records, that pertain to persons who are not subject to an investigation under Section 215.”
The dissent against the Amendment was led by President Obama and the White House, who sent the NSA head to Capitol Hill to spend the day briefing Congress on the program. What is interesting was the coalition built on both sides. The attempt to curb the powers of the NSA was a partnership of conservative Republicans, libertarian Republicans, and liberal Democrats. Against the Amash amendment were the President, leadership of both parties, and the mainline followers of those leaders. The proposal was defeated by a 217-205.
Much of the dissent was built on the idea that passing the amendment would destroy the effectiveness of the NSA’s programs to stop terrorist attacks. However, the Amash amendment seems to make provision for the NSA to get the information it deems necessary. Under the Amash amendment the NSA would still be able to use FISA courts to get warrants in order to monitor suspected terrorists and their associates. The amendment simply ends the “blanket” collection of data from innocent American citizens who enjoy the protections of the 3rd, 4th, and 5th Amendments.
Senators Ron Wyden (D-OR) and Mark Udall (D-CO) both sit on the Senate Intelligence Committee and are privy to much of the classified information that would be pertinent to stopping terror attacks. They have both refuted the idea that the NSA spy program has been used to stop any attacks, “saying ‘these programs’ have disrupted ‘dozens of terrorist plots’ is misleading if the bulk phone-records collection is actually providing little or no unique value.” This observation by two officials with access to the most sensitive data should be a crushing blow to the argument that the amendments would hinder the NSA’s effectiveness.
The reason this debate is important is that it brings up a canard that tyrannical governments are constantly using–the idea that citizens must give up their rights to ensure their safety. This is the quickest way to ensure that we may lose all of our rights. Consider Soviet Russia in the mid-1960s. I am sure that you would have been hard pressed to find a safer society …was it worth it? Be vigilant my friends, or for fear, we may lose our liberty.
(An Update) Since the writing of this article – news has broken that federal government has also been demanding internet providers give up the private passwords of users. The providers have been reluctant to give up user passwords but as we’ve seen on the rest of these issues, it’s likely they have already begun complying with the governments demands.