The Tide In Congress Has Shifted Against NSA Surveillance

from the it's-not-going-to-last dept

The surprisingly close vote against the Amash amdendment in the House last week signaled a real (and somewhat momentous) shift in Congress against the NSA’s surveillance practices. While some have tried to brush it off because the amendment failed, the vote was so close that even supporters of the program have realized it needs to change. On top of that, more and more of those who voted against Amash have since made public statements about how they’re against the NSA practice as well, but they just didn’t like the Amash amendment itself. It’s even gotten so crazy that one of the staunchest defenders of NSA surveillance, Senator Saxby Chambliss, has even admitted that changes need to be made to “make things more transparent.” That’s certainly not an agreement that the program needs to go, but this is the same guy who said that Congress shouldn’t even debate the issue last year when the FISA Amendments Act was up for discussion. For him now to admit that they need to be more transparent is a very clear statement that even he realizes the programs are in trouble.

The NY Times has a detailed look at how the momentum in Congress is clearly against the excessive surveillance by the NSA, even if the Amash amendment didn’t pass. It notes that when the amendment was first proposed, most felt that only “wingnuts” would vote for it. Then nearly half of the House did… and many who didn’t are making it clear that the program needs to change.

On Friday, Ms. Pelosi, the House minority leader and a veteran of the Intelligence Committee, and Mr. Hoyer dashed off a letter to the president warning that even those Democrats who had stayed with him on the issue on Wednesday would be seeking changes.

That letter included the signature of Mr. Conyers, who is rallying an increasingly unified Democratic caucus to his side, as well as 61 House Democrats who voted no on Wednesday but are now publicly signaling their discontent.

“Although some of us voted for and others against the amendment, we all agree that there are lingering questions and concerns about the current” data collection program, the letter stated.

Similarly, the Washington Post is also noting that reform of the NSA programs is “inevitable” at this point. It highlights a proposal from Rep. Adam Schiff to create a pool of attorneys who will represent “the other side” in FISA court hearings, so that there’s at least some sort of adversarial hearing. However, the article then notes that there are a ton of different proposals being introduced to scale back the NSA’s efforts:

Indeed — whatever the chances of Schiff’s proposal — what is striking is the myriad of different angles from which lawmakers are now trying to chip away at this once seemingly impregnable NSA surveillance monolith. There is the proposal to require the FISA court to declassify key opinions authorizing surveillance, which is backed by at least a dozen Senators, including (ostensibly) by some Dem leaders. There is another proposal to require Senate confirmation of FISA court judges. Senator Richard Blumenthal has also suggested several other ideas designed to bring transparency to the FISA court proceeding and provide for outside groups to weigh in before the court authorizes the government’s request.

And there are more coming beyond that as well. Basically, it’s becoming quite clear that Congress isn’t going to let this slide. All of this brings to mind two key points:

  1. For all the Ed Snowden bashing going on among officials, his whistleblowing is going to create at least some sort of change. Whether it goes far enough is still yet to be determined, but the leaks clearly were not ignored and are having a very, very real impact. I still find it difficult to see how those in Congress who are supportive of reforming the surveillance efforts are still attacking Snowden. If he wasn’t whistleblowing, then why are they now (finally) eager to change the program? Clearly, he was exposing abuse — abuse which even those in Congress now admit is a problem.
  2. This also highlights the other big lie from major defenders of the program, in which they like to suggest that everyone in Congress was aware of and approved these surveillance programs. That clearly is not true. If that was the case, Congress wouldn’t be quite so willing to change things. Yes, there is the cynical truth that some who probably did know and did support it are now changing their tune once they’ve realized that the public isn’t so happy about this, but that’s really yet another reason why such secrecy is a problem. Congress is supposed to represent the people, and now that the public is making it clear that they’re not happy, Congress is moving to (try to) fix these programs.

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Comments on “The Tide In Congress Has Shifted Against NSA Surveillance”

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Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re:

Every politician needs to go and be replaced. The major parties need to be disbanded. Congressional and presidential wages need to be set at the average American income. Any lobbying that deals with money or gifts of any kind needs to be ceased. Anyone attempting to lobby with gifts or money need to be put in jail. Once the government is ruled by the people again we can go a little more lax on things of this nature. Until then, massive jail time in blue collar prisons for the slightest of infractions.

The president needs to be kept in the same conditions that rank and file military soldiers are kept in. The Whitehouse would only be available to him for ‘official functions’. No healthcare beyond that of a normal rank and file military member (non-officer) should be available to any member of congress or the president.

If you want them to care about anyone that isn’t incredibly rich then make sure they’re not rich. They’ll care about themselves, which will force them to care about the class they’re in, which will force them to care about the average citizen.

Anonymous Coward says:

there is one body that i haven’t seen mentioned in the discussions concerning the surveillance. it is another body that are favourable towards what has been happening and are very keen to keep it going, as they are able, i am convinced, to utilize the spying results and that body is the entertainment industries. as off as it may seem, you can bet your arse they are in on this lot somewhere, somehow and are desperate to keep it going. if there is a change to stop what the NSA etc are doing, that needs expanding to include the entertainment industries and all their sidekicks, and those in the collecting game as well. think about how this industry has abused spying laws to their benefit!

Anonymous Coward says:

The politicians may be realizing that they have to appear to roll back the surveillance state otherwise they will be replaced by people who will actually roll back the surveillance state. The problem with the latter is that it could take out the industry jobs they have been promised for supporting the surveillance state.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re:

Agreed. If they really wanted changes, small potatoes like FISA reforms is worthless.

The transparency proposed seems too limited in scope to begin with.

Meanwhile the private contractors are raking in the monies and sending a good deal back to politicians. It is an old praxis, but when you raise the spending like patriot act did, you will inevitably make the problem a lot worse… Private contractors probably do not even want money, as long as they can get access like Snowden and make some industrial discoveries they are probably happy.

FM Hilton (profile) says:

One step forward

Guess that this is a way onward.

But I still want to see the entire spying program eliminated.

As in: “Dude, you’re fired!” and mean it.

Let’s just wait and see if Congress actually has the balls to continue with it.

Right now, they’re brave from all the nasty exposure. Once it isn’t a news story, there goes the bravery, and it’s back to business as usual.

“That was a close call, there. We almost had to do our jobs!”

DannyB (profile) says:

Re: Edward Snowden is a traitor?

So if a traitor brings things to light and effects change due to his
release of confidential information, what does a patriot do?

Is that a trick question?

A PATRIOT would ACT to:
* implement a new surveillance state
* create constitution-free zones around the borders
* create secret courts
* create secret laws
* create secret interpretations of laws
* have (or create!) secret enemies
* create secret prisons
* secret extraditions to secret prisions
* torture prisoners
* eliminate due process, challenge or appeals
* do away with several parts of the constitution in the name of safety
* gag you from even speaking that you have been served with a warrant to tap someone’s private communications

These things may seem disturbing. But in the end, comrade, they will be for the betterment of the state.

Chris ODonnell (profile) says:

Or, this is all a classic misdirection ruse. Get a couple of establishment papers like the Post and NYT to drum up the idea that the tide has turned and pair it with the manufacture of a surprisingly close vote and you have a pretty good shot at distracting the public long enough with fake reform efforts for all this to go away, from the govt. point of view.

Not that I’m accusing our government of lying to use or anything.

Joseph Ratliff (profile) says:


The “naysayers” that voted against the Amash Amendment give me the impression they are just back pedaling because they didn’t think the overall vote would be so close.

NOW, because of the close vote, they’re saying “Oops, well, changes still need to be made, we just didn’t like this one.”

Bullshit… big steaming piles of it.

Voting FOR the Amash Amendment instead of playing a negotiating game with our civil liberties was the correct course of action. Now, in my eyes, any politician who didn’t vote for Amash is just talking out both sides of their face.

Dan (profile) says:

They only profess change if they get caught

“This also highlights the other big lie from major defenders of the program, in which they like to suggest that everyone in Congress was aware of and approved these surveillance programs. That clearly is not true. If that was the case, Congress wouldn’t be quite so willing to change things.”

I disagree with your statement Mike. Congress as a whole is fully aware of a lot of things that they allow until the public hears of it and yells ‘rat’. Then they are always willing to change things after they are caught.

Wally (profile) says:


I don’t think lowering the budget of the NSA would help. That’s one of the things the Amash Anendment asked for.

The one thing I should note about sequestering budgets is that it usually involves refinancing a government agency. The Amash Amendment called for defunding the NSA.

I’m sort of reminded about how NASA’s budget was stripped and how they greatly affected how it operated. We cannot defund the NSA. Yes we need a way less intrusive program in it, but defunding it will not allow resources to be open to reinvent the NSA. The Amash Amendment made good changes, but it also defended the NSA.

Wally (profile) says:

Re: Re: Funding

The catch 22 of that is that by making it illegal to fund a program…you strip funding for the agency to make appropriate changes to a particular program. PRISM gave the NSA new computers and before that we were relying on severely outdated technology to monitor and record phone calls on foreign soil (super computers circa 1993).

PRISM needs to be dialed back or changed but not demolished because of the newer, better technology involved with it. I’d say spy only if we are warned by a government about someone, or that person had a criminal history to prove it. No domestically spying on US Citizens regardless of where they are.

Anonymous Coward says:

The NSA receives funding as much through the black budget of the Pentagon as it does straight out open funding. No one on our level sees that part of the budget broken out. It’s just a lump sum the military is going to do ‘something’ with.

Defunding it publicly will only shift the funding to the black budget where no one can point to the source of it’s finances from the public side. Another of those ‘the public is the enemy’ themes.

I trust absolutely no one in congress today with few exceptions to do the right thing and end this. It only appears they are willing to accept some sort of change because they’ve been caught with their hand in the cookie jar while everyone was watching so to say. That doesn’t mean they are willing to make the changes necessary and things like calling for Snowden’s return for judicial punishment while ignoring Clapper’s perjury speaks far more loudly to me than the mutterings of congress after the citizens are irate. No one in authority appears to be serious about accountability but rather about poll numbers and 3 card monte.

out_of_the_blue says:

In other news, The Crusher vows vengeance on Rick Rude.

This is total theater, people, as phony as pro wrestling, to make you believe that there is some opposition and you’re having an effect, change is just around the corner… But next year, after this little dust-up dies down, you’ll be surveilled more than ever — including by Google.

Digitari says:

Nothing new under the sun.........

all of this has been going on in the military for 30 some years at the very least. Everything you see today with the current government was pulled on the US military 30 years ago. Want to see the future of America, talk to a service member today to see what it will be like 30 years from now….. USMC 1st bat 12th Marines artillery (K-bay)

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