The National Security Agency has invited certain members of Congress to a top secret, invitation only meeting to discuss a proposed amendment that could end the NSA’s ability to conduct dragnet surveillance on millions of Americans.
A letter circulated only to select lawmakers early Tuesday announced that NSA Director General Keith B. Alexander would host a question and answer session with members of Congress in preparation of a Thursday vote on Capitol Hill expected to involve an amendment introduced last month by Rep. Justin Amash (R-Michigan).
That amendment, a provision tacked along to a Department of Defense Appropriations Act along with nearly 100 others, aims to greatly diminish the NSA’s domestic spying powers in the wake of disclosures attributed to Edward Snowden, a 30-year-old former employee of Booz Allen Hamilton currently fighting extradition to the US where he faces charges of espionage for his role in leaking state secrets.
One of the leaked files released by Snowden to the UK’s Guardian newspaper details how the government’s interpretation of the PATRIOT Act’s Section 215 has allowed the NSA to collect call logs and other so-called “telephony metadata” pertaining to millions of Americans on a regular basis. If the Amash amendment is approved, it would end that authority.
The amendment, as it appears on the House of Representatives Committee on Rules website, “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.”
“It’s not a partisan issue. It’s something that cuts across the entire political spectrum,” Amash told the Rules panel. “In order for funds to be used by the NSA, the court order would have to have a statement limiting the collection of records to those records that pertain to a person under investigation,” Amash said, according to Politico. “If the court order doesn’t have that statement, the NSA doesn’t receive the funding to collect those records.”
Amash’s suggestion isn’t unheard of in the wake of a massive public backlash caused by Mr. Snowden’s disclosures, but it certainly isn’t sitting pretty with the NSA. According to Huffington Post, a letter circulated on Tuesday only hours after the Amash amendment was confirmed to be in order and expected to go up for vote this Thursday.
“In advance of anticipated action on amendments to the DoD Appropriations bill, Ranking Member C.A. Dutch Ruppersberger of the House Intelligence Committee invites your Member to attend a question and answer session with General Keith B. Alexander of the National Security Agency,” HuffPo quoted from the invitation.
The meeting, added journalist Ryan Grim, was scheduled to be held at a security level of top secret/SCI and was only open to certain lawmakers, echoing the secrecy involved in the very programs Amash aims to shut down.
In preparation for Amash’s amendment going up for vote, the activism group Demand Progress has http://act.demandprogress.org/letter/nsa_amash/a campaign in hopes it will encourage Americans to ask their representatives to vote in favor of the bill.
“As the NSA spying revelations continue to unfold, we increasingly find ourselves facing the reality that — at any moment — the federal government could be listening to our phone calls, watching our email traffic, keeping tabs on our Internet browsing, or worse,” the website reads. “But now we have our first real chance to fight back.”
Speaking to Huffington Post, Demand Progress executive director David Segal said, “To invoke that expert on surveillance George W. Bush: After this vote we’ll finally know who is with us in the cause to protect civil rights — and who is against us.”
A spokesperson for Rep. Amash told TIME Magazine on Tuesday afternoon that debate over the amendment is scheduled for Wednesday evening, with lawmakers expected to move for a vote the following morning. The amendment is being cosponsored by Rep. John Conyers, a Democrat from Amash’s home state of Michigan.