US Congress to vote on limiting NSA surveillance powers



The US Capitol in Washington, DC, is seen on Feb. 28, 2013. US President Barack Obama summoned congressional leaders Friday in a bid to avert budget sequestration, but Obama was bound by law to initiate the automatic spending cuts on March 1, 2013.


Saul Loeb

The United States Congress will vote Wednesday on limiting the National Security Agency's ability to collect US phone records.

It will be the first vote held by the House on restricting NSA surveillance since former NSA contractor Edward Snowden leaked documents detailing the agency's PRISM program to the Guardian and the Washington Post.

The amendment to the Department of Defense funding bill was put forward by Michigan Republican Congressman Justin Amash and supported by Michigan Democrat John Conyers.

It would prevent US intelligence agencies from relying on Section 215 of the Patriot Act "to collect records, including telephone call records, that pertain to persons who are not subject to an investigation," the Guardian reported.

Under Amash’s amendment, the NSA could only collect data and records if the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court declared the surveillance was related to an individual under investigation.

"The people have spoken through their representatives," Amash told the Guardian. "This is an opportunity to vote on something that will substantially limit the ability of the NSA to collect their phone records without suspicion."

The NSA is nervous enough that its bulk collection of records could be stopped that the head of the National Security Agency, Gen. Keith Alexander, held separate, private meetings with Republican and Democrat lawmakers today to urge them to vote against the measure.

President Barack Obama's administration has made clear that it opposes the amendment, with White House press secretary Jay Carney accusing Amash of trying to "hastily dismantle one of our intelligence community's counterterrorism tools."

"This blunt approach is not the product of an informed, open, or deliberative process," Carney said in a statement released late Tuesday and cited by The Hill.

"We urge the House to reject the Amash Amendment, and instead move forward with an approach that appropriately takes into account the need for a reasoned review of what tools can best secure the nation," Carney said.

The measure is up for debate as part of the Defense Appropriations bill.

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