So, this isn't a huge surprise, but this evening there was a rather fascinating debate in the House in which Congressional Reps debated and then rejected
the Amash Amendment to defund the NSA's Section 215 efforts to collect every bit of data about every communication made by Americans. While it sucks that the amendment lost, the vote was very close
-- much closer than most people suspected (which explains why the NSA and the White House had flipped out about the amendment even hitting the floor). The debate about the Amash amendment followed one about an amendment from Rep. Pompeo (which is the same as the Rep. Nugent amendment). As we discussed, the Pompeo/Nugent amendment is a red herring
pretending to limit the collection of information, but which really just restates the status quote. The Amash amendment was the important one. The debate was fascinating -- seeing a bipartisan group of representatives speak eloquently about protecting our rights and the rights of Americans. However, the defenders of the NSA program really pushed out some crazy claims. Rep. Mike Rogers insisted that the program stopped terrorism -- something that has not yet been shown at all. He also claimed that without spying on all Americans we might have another 9/11.
The worst, by far, were the claims from Rep. Michelle Bachmann, who claimed that the Snowden revelations "helped Islamic jihadists" and that if we don't keep spying on all Americans there will be horrible results... and then immediately lied and claimed that the NSA data collected was "smaller than a phone book" even though others on her side, like Rep. Tom Cotton admitted it was "billions of records." Bachmann's misleading attempt at making a point was because the NSA database doesn't directly include names
, but just phone numbers (and phone calls, locations, people you're calling). What that leaves out is that the NSA can easily connect its database to a phone book
and have that information anyway. Or, as Parker Higgins pointed out, if there's less info than a phone book, wouldn't it have been cheaper and easier to just buy the NSA a phone book
In the end, the Pompeo/Nugent amendment passed by an unfortunately wide margin: 409 to 12. Oddly, the nays were as high as 20 and bounced around up and down for a while, but at the very end of the voting, it looks like a bunch changed their vote. As for the Amash Amendment it wasn't so lopsided. In fact, it was pretty close: 205 voted for the Amash amendment, with 217 against. While the amendment lost, it was pretty damn close
, meaning that a very large percentage of Congress appears to be very concerned
about NSA bulk collection of data. That bodes well for future reform to limit the NSA.