Justin Amash Wants to Debate Barack Obama About the Surveillance State

"To those who seem unconcerned, we would say that the evidence we have is that the NSA is collecting information on all Americans."


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The recent revelation that the NSA is engaging in large scale data collection with the aid of major technology and communication companies is more than disconcerting. Even its proponents admit it's "creepy." Who are the American people left to trust in a time like this? Will Adams, the deputy chief of staff for Rep. Justin Amash (R-Mich.), said his boss is now working on bipartisan legislation to combat this overreach and that he would love to debate the president, "Lincoln-Douglas style," about the role of the NSA. I spoke to Adams this afternoon about the scandal and what Amash hopes to do about it. 

Reason: What would Representative Amash say to citizens who believe the NSA data collection does not affect them?

Adams: To those who seem unconcerned, we would say that the evidence we have is that the NSA is collecting information on all Americans. That's the whole point- it is indiscriminate. There may be a proper role for surveillance activity on those who are suspected of violating the law or certainly where there is probable cause that people are violating the law, but the whole point of the scandal regarding the NSA's collection of telephone records and, perhaps, internet records, is that they are doing so indiscriminately, without any specific or particularized belief that the people they are surveilling have done anything wrong. When the government begins to collect massive amounts of information about innocent Americans and stores that data for who-knows how long, that creates a potential for government to use that information for all sorts of mischief.

Reason: Is Representative Amash familiar with Rand Paul's recent legislation, "Restore the Fourth Amendment"? And, how does he think this legislation could affect domestic spying?

Adams: Yes, Representative Amash is familiar with it. There are a lot of legislative efforts on both sides of the Capitol. In fact, we just had a meeting with Senator Paul and several other senators and house members who are strategizing what we should do next week. That includes both legislation and litigation. We're focused right now on our own bill, which we are writing with Representative John Conyers, the leading Democrat on the Judiciary Committee. We think our bill will address many of the issues that have arisen around the disclosure of the NSA's surveillance.

Reason: Is Edward Snowden a hero or a traitor? How does he compare to Bradley Manning?

Adams: We are not yet familiar with all the details of whether or not Edward Snowden exhausted all possible internal remedies before giving the information to the media. It is important and a great benefit to the American people to know about this type of surveillance, which we believe threatens our constitutional rights.

Reason: Jay Carney stated that President Obama "welcomes debate" about this issue. Given the opportunity, would Representative Amash debate the president about the role of the NSA?

Adams: We would love to. Do you mean like a Lincoln-Douglas kind of debate?

Reason: Yes, exactly.

Adams: Yes, of course. If the president is serious about engaging on these kinds of issues, we welcome that. We have to question President Obama's seriousness, though, because he talked a lot about liberty and protecting the rights of Americans when he was on the campaign trail. Unbeknownst to us until recently, he doubled down on President Bush's policies with respect to domestic surveillance. That makes us wonder how genuine his desire is to protect the civil liberties of Americans. But, if he wants to use the recent disclosures as an opportunity to reengage in this debate, we welcome it. As I said, we are working with John Conyers on bipartisan legislation to protect Americans from this type of surveillance, so it's not a partisan issue. We think there are many members on both sides of the aisle who want to solve this problem. If the president is one of them, we welcome him.