Key panel rejects last-minute NSA changes

Eleventh-hour attempts to attach National Security Agency reforms to two bills will not see the House floor.

The House Rules Committee voted late Tuesday to block consideration of amendments from Reps. Justin Amash (R-Mich.), Zoe Lofgren (D-Calif.) and several other lawmakers.

The lawmakers are unhappy with a bill intended to reform the NSA, known as the USA Freedom Act, and their measures would have taken additional steps to tighten requirements on the agency.

They had sought to add the amendments to both the USA Freedom Act, and a defense policy bill.

ADVERTISEMENT
Rules is allowing consideration of 162 other amendments to the defense bill, but blocked the NSA measures. It also voted to allow an updated version of the USA Freedom Act to the floor without other amendments.

Privacy groups withdrew their support from the USA Freedom Act on Tuesday after seeing the newest version, which they said contains a “watered-down” ban on mass surveillance.

The groups supported earlier changes to the USA Freedom Act, written by Patriot Act author Rep. Jim Sensenbrenner (R-Wis.), but said the new revisions after talks between House leaders and the Obama administration went too far.

Lofgren and Amash warned that if tighter controls weren't approved, Congress would revisit the NSA controversy again.

“If we don’t address this issue, we’re going to be back here in a couple years having seen the same kinds of violations of the Constitution,” Lofgren told the Rules Committee. She touted an amendment to keep the NSA from putting security vulnerabilities in devices, software and technical standards.

House Rules Committee Chairman Pete Sessions (R-Texas) seemed supportive of Lofrgen’s amendment but said he needs “to go look at this a little bit more.”

House Judiciary Chairman Bob Goodlatte (R-Va.) testified in favor of the latest version of the USA Freedom Act. He said it was a hard-won compromise that is “a major step forward and a major accomplishment.”

The bill “goes further than the president’s plan in that it prohibits the bulk collection of all records, not just telephone records,” he said, referring to a surveillance reform proposal President Obama outlined earlier this year.