In surprise vote, House backs NSA limits

A proposal to block intelligence agencies from conducting warrantless and “backdoor” searches of U.S. communications passed in the House late Thursday night.

Adopted 293-123, with one member voting present, the amendment to the 2015 Defense appropriations bill would prohibit the search of government databases for information on U.S. citizens without a warrant. It would further cut off funding for the CIA and National Security Agency to build security vulnerabilities, or "backdoors," into domestic tech products or services for surveillance purposes. Rep. Dan Lipinski (D-Ill.) was the only member to vote present.

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Rep. Thomas Massie (R-Ky.), the chief sponsor of the bipartisan amendment, said it would limit the controversial NSA spying.

"The American people are sick of being spied on," Massie said. 

Rep. Zoe Lofgren (D-Calif.), another sponsor of the amendment, said it would uphold the Constitution without infringing upon national security.

"It allows us to get the bad guys, but also says, 'Use probable cause and the Fourth Amendment," Lofgren said.

But Rep. Dutch Ruppersberger (D-Md.), the top Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee, said an appropriations bill was not the proper place for considering the measure.

"Ultimately, while I applaud these members for looking for ways to reform our intelligence gathering, we shouldn't consider this on an appropriations bill with only 10 minutes of debate," Ruppersberger said.

The Defense appropriations bill is being considered under a modified open rule, which allows members to offer an unlimited number of amendments. But amendments are limited to only ten minutes of debate each.

Consequently, the amendment was debated for just over ten minutes around 9:30 p.m. Thursday night.

House Judiciary Committee Chairman Bob Goodlatte (R-Va.) argued the amendment would potentially jeopardize national security by limiting the NSA's intelligence-gathering activities.

"This amendment would create a blind spot for the intelligence community tracking terrorists with direct connections to the U.S. homeland," Goodlatte said.  "Such an impediment would put American lives at risk of another terrorist attack."

The House last month passed an NSA reform bill 303-121 that would effectively end the NSA's bulk data collection of phone records. 

 

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