House Approves a Weakened Surveillance Reform Bill After Co-Sponsors Turn Against It


Office of Justin Amash

Today the House of Representatives approved a watered-down version of the surveillance reform bill known as the USA FREEDOM Act by a vote of 303 to 121. Revisions to the bill demanded by the Obama administration were so troubling that several prominent supporters, including Reps. Justin Amash (R-Mich.) and Zoe Lofgren (D-Calif.), ended up opposing it. Here is how Amash, an original co-sponsor of the bill, explained his vote against it in a message on Facebook:

This morning's bill maintains and codifies a large-scale, unconstitutional domestic spying program. It claims to end "bulk collection" of Americans' data only in a very technical sense: The bill prohibits the government from, for example, ordering a telephone company to turn over all its call records every day.

But the bill was so weakened in behind-the-scenes negotiations over the last week that the government still can order—without probable cause—a telephone company to turn over all call records for "area code 616" or for "phone calls made east of the Mississippi." The bill green-lights the government's massive data collection activities that sweep up Americans' records in violation of the Fourth Amendment.

As I noted yesterday, the current version of the bill redefines the "specific selection term" that is supposed to limit government demands for phone records and other personal data held by third parties. The version unanimously approved by two House committees earlier this month defined "specific selection term" as "a term used to uniquely describe a person, entity or account." The bill passed by the House instead defines "specific selection term" as "a discrete term" that "limit[s] the scope of the information." Critics like Amash plausibly worry that anything short of universal collection might satisfy this requirement, meaning that the records of many innocent people could still be sucked up by the National Security Agency on the slightest pretext. One small consolation is that we may have some indication if that is happening, since the bill requires that decisions by the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court construing that crucial phrase be published at least in summary form.

Rep. James Sensenbrenner (R-Wis.), who introduced the USA FREEDOM Act to correct what he believed to be a gross misinterpretation of the government's authority to collect information under Section 215 of the PATRIOT Act (which he also wrote), said the weakened version of his bill was still an improvement. "Let me be clear," he told his fellow legislators. "I wish this bill did more. To my colleagues who lament the changes, I agree with you. The negotiations for this bill were intense, we had to make compromises, but this bill still does deserve support."

The ACLU's Laura Murphy took a similar view. "While far from perfect," she said, "this bill is an unambiguous statement of congressional intent to rein in the out-of-control NSA. While we share the concerns of many—including members of both parties who rightly believe the bill does not go far enough—without it we would be left with no reform at all, or worse, a House Intelligence Committee bill that would have cemented bulk collection of Americans' communications into law. We will fight to secure additional improvements in the Senate."

While the bill may be clear statement of congressional intent, the mechanism for implementing that intent is highly ambiguous, which is what the administration wanted. The people who argued that all phone records are "relevant" to a terrorism investigation will have no compunction about arguing that slightly reducing the size of their dragnet makes it comply with the statutory language they wrote.

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  1. There is no way the administration and the NSA are going to allow themselves to be significantly restricted from the spying they’re already doing. They’ve been doing it for a while, and they are addicted to it. The only possible way is for enough Congresspersons to insist on a serious handcuffing of what spying can be done, and as we see in this case, not many are interested in what it would take to do that. They’d rather get some protections that they can claim are “better than nothing” and therefore satisfy most of their constituents that are concerned that they “did something”, and then they can drop this and move on to having lunch with lobbyists.

    1. My congresscritter is pleased as punch. He reined in the NSA with some serious Freedom Act’ion

    2. The only way it is going to happen is if the supreme court weighs in an unequivovally says it’s illegal and unconstitutional.

  2. “The public is cranky again? Give it a pacifier, it should go back to sleep in no time.”

  3. “Let me be clear,” he told his fellow legislators. “I wish this bill did more.

    That’s the entire problem with government. They keep passing bills which “do more”.

    1. “There are those who say, ‘We must do more!’ To them I say, we have done something.”

      1. “Look, all I want to do is stand behind the President at a well-choreographed signing ceremony where we shake hands and talk about how we’ve balanced freedom and security in a way that promotes our best values, and then get my snout back in the trough and forget about this civil liberties stuff.”

  4. “The bill green-lights the government’s massive data collection activities that sweep up Americans’ records in violation of the Fourth Amendment.”

    “”Well at least they *did something!*””

    And our betters say we’re too cynical about government.

    – House gets popular support for a bill ending the government’s unconstitutional surveillance program

    – House ends up passing a bill giving legal approval to activities hitherto done ‘in secret’ because there *was no legal approval*


    Its like that time I went to a dentist, and they pulled out the GOOD tooth and left the bad one alone.

    AND they did it without any painkillers (not covered by insurance plan!)

    Then they *charged me extra* for a re-schedule when I noted they’d pulled out the wrong one.

    (the above is in fact, not a joke, and actually happened. FYTW!)

    1. Ow – it’s painful just to read that, let along enduring it personally.

    2. I hope you received justice for that.

      1. On the contrary, he was sued when he left a bad review on Yelp.

      2. I received a bill.

        It was the late 1980s, and my parents divorced, and we (the kids) went from a *golden*/superpremium health plan provided by Dad’s law firm, to a supercheap HMO for temporary coverage while my mom looked for another job.

        anyway, things like ‘dental’ could only be treated by this ()@#*$ clinic in the Bronx instead of the normal Family Dentist* we had gone to for years

        *(and would give the kids ‘the gas’ or let us play with the X-ray machine whenever our parents weren’t around. I think he smoked weed. That guy was the best)

        …anyway, said, ‘Bronx Clinic’ was like the goddamn “Barbazon Hairstyling (and Dentistry) School… the dentist was from Turkmenistan, and he only took *cash* for painkillers (seriously). A fucking drug dealer.

        I got sent there for a severely impacted wisdom tooth. He read the X-Ray wrong. Very wrong. he ripped out one of my molars. He wouldn’t do the bad one until I’d rescheduled (he only got paid for each ‘scheduled appointment’)

        I’m sure things like this will never happen once we all have Obamacare

  5. The ACLU’s Laura Murphy took a similar view. “While far from perfect,” she said, “this bill is an unambiguous statement of congressional intent to rein in the out-of-control NSA.”

    There’s no ambiguity whatsoever about what this bill says: Congress won’t do shit about the NSA.

    1. Screw that. This is unacceptable. Go back and try again, Congress. People are actually more pissed than scared of the bogeyman, this time.

      1. We need another Church Committee.

        1. Somebody aaaaalways has to bring religion into it.

          1. I’ve suddenly realized that I’ve misunderstood what was meant by separation of Church and state all these years.

      2. Sure they are, ProLib. So pissed that they’ll carry this rage with them for five months to the midterm elections and vote all of those spineless cowards out of office, right?

        1. Look, ProL believes in the people, Hugh. I mean, why shouldn’t he; they’ve gotten us this far, right?

          Besides, this time, why not the worst?

          1. I’m not yielding one inch to these fuckers, regardless of how dumb my fellow citizens are.

        2. It reaffirms millennials’ support for Obama!

  6. This government has become so untethered from the constitution that I no longer consider it legitimate. That has been the case for quite some time. That it continues to engage in crimes and stray even further outside the bounds of legitimacy is no surprise.

    1. Lysander Spooner was way ahead of you. He thought the same in 1867.

      “But whether the Constitution really be one thing, or another, this much is certain – that it has either authorized such a government as we have had, or has been powerless to prevent it. In either case it is unfit to exist.”

      1. I am familiar with that quote.

        The constitution is only a piece of paper, so yeah, it is powerless.

        The government we have exists because we allow it to. It is shameful.

    2. And, this will continue until the whole rotten thing collapses or we find a way to kill off the political class.

      Service. Limits.

      1. You Know Who Else tried to kill off the Political Class and was not stopped by someone who thought the US Constitution was bad?

        1. If it is not Alfred E. Neuman then I am drawing a blank.

          1. I was thinking of Robespierre and Thomas Paine though I realize that I don’t really know what Paine thought of the US Constitution and might have been confusing how in his reply to Burke he gave some Spoonerian criticism of the British Constitution.

            1. I was trying to think of somebody in ancient times or isolation-era Japan.

  7. Could Salon Salon any harder than they do in this review of the new X-men movie?

    Somebody must volunteer to be projected way, way back into the past ? into the waterbed grooviness of 1973, to be specific ? in order to stop the blue, demented blur of hotness known as Raven and/or Mystique (Jennifer Lawrence, aka She Who Is Cast in All Movies) from perpetrating an act of vengeance that will launch this entire concatenation of apocalypse…I’m curious, by the way: Can we use this technique to send somebody back to 1983 and pass some serious energy legislation under President Walter Mondale or whomever? Because it’s for damn sure too late now.

    “Days of Future Past” is a massively expensive film…If you want to argue that there’s something immoral about spending all that money to make a disposable entertainment, you might be right. But with this and Gareth Edwards’ “Godzilla” (which I did not claim was the best action movie since “Jaws”) packing the multiplexes, Memorial Day moviegoers have two popcorn-friendly options that absolutely, positively, do not suck. Late-stage capitalism at its finest.

    Salon: Shoving politics where it makes absolutely no sense since 1998.

    1. Left-wing statists who think art and entertainment should be left-wing statist propaganda turn out to be Left-wing statists who make art and entertainment that is left-wing statist propaganda. Shocking I know.

      1. I’m not getting it, Winnie. So, it’s the left-state wingists who make artertainment that is predictably propagandistic?

    2. What’s with the late stage capitalism crap lately? We don’t even have capitalism.

      1. What’s with the late stage capitalism crap lately?

        I love when they use that term, because the very idea that ‘late stage’ anything exists is a Marxist historical argument.

        But don’t call Andrew O’Hehir a Marxist, you stupid teabagger! Just because he uncritically believes in Marxist dialectics proves nothing!

        1. Reminds of the olden days of youth when libertarians thought that the Left had abandoned Socialism and Marxism for good and would begin advocating for free markets along left-libertarian lines.

        2. There’s been a serious revival of the term as of late. I’m curious where it started.

        3. He recently wrote a piece bitching about how movies are too individualistic and feature protagonists that solve problems and have adventures rather than stories that celebrate the collective.

          He’s an excellent example about how the only difference between communism and fascism is rhetoric.

          1. So he likes sports team flicks

            1. Nope, still too individualistic. Vince Papale, Jim Morris, Rudy, all individual characters that propagate the vulgar capitalist bourgeois lie that you can succeed on your own with hard work and determination.

            2. The team part is important. He hated Secretariat because it was secretly a pro-Nazi film that glorified white supremacy and the ostensible superiority of the Aryan race.

              Although the troubling racial subtext is more deeply buried here than in “The Blind Side” (where it’s more like text, period), “Secretariat” actually goes much further, presenting a honey-dipped fantasy vision of the American past as the Tea Party would like to imagine it, loaded with uplift and glory and scrubbed clean of multiculturalism and social discord. In the world of this movie, strong-willed and independent-minded women like Chenery are ladies first (she’s like a classed-up version of Sarah Palin feminism), left-wing activism is an endearing cute phase your kids go through (until they learn the hard truth about inheritance taxes), and all right-thinking Americans are united in their adoration of a Nietzschean ?berhorse, a hero so superhuman he isn’t human at all.

              1. Holy crap. That’s true obsession.

                Or fantastic trolling.

      2. I guess they think the Revolution is coming and then finally the Republican wreckers and saboteurs will be silenced.

        1. I am not so sure the revolution isn’t coming, but I don’t think it will be what they think it will be.

          1. I’m worried that it won;t be what libertarians want it to be as well.

            1. Oh it won’t be. No need worrying about it.

            2. It won’t be, at least not entirely.

      3. Capitalism is a race to the bottom where corporation have desolated the land, and the capitalists live in luxury while the workers labor in chains.

        And that’s where we’re headed if the government isn’t given more power so it can control the corporations that control it.

        What we need is an egalitarian society (where the workers toil in chains while the political class lives in luxury. producers are suckers. who you know is what matters).

        1. Oh I get the argument alright. Never mind that we’re living in some bastardization of socialism, corporatism, and mercantilism. I’m just wondering who’s pushing this “flavor of the month” argument.

    3. They’re a parody of themselves.

      1. They’re like puritans who are incapable of considering any book or movie except insofar as it conforms to their faith and pushes forward the goals of the believers and the word of God.

        1. Oh, yes, that, Irish.

      2. Yes, they are, Paul, but they’re unaware that they’ve irreparably descended into self-parody. Unconscious self-parody is the cruellest and therefore funniest form of humor.

        1. It’s funny as long as they have no power or ability to fuck up anyone else’s life. The problem is, these fucking morons will vote, propagandize, and lobby for the worst policies imaginable.

          It’s funny until it’s dangerous.

    4. Am I missing something? Mondale?

      1. Alternafappingverse.

      2. If they’re going to send somebody back in time, send him back in time to alter election results, too.

        Still, their timeline isn’t quite right.

      3. We’d be a progressive paradise if only Mondale had won in 1984!

        1. If only Jimmy Carter had won re-election in 1980 then progtopia would result!

          1. The left in the UK have the same delusions about Thatcher. Apparently 1978 wasn’t that bad and if they had just held the course with Labour and the practically Lenninist unions things would have been fine.

            1. Yeah that gets me. Reagan and Thatcher weren’t nearly as “anti-government” as their enemies and supporters think they are but the leftist attacks on them seem to imply that the 1970s were some utopia which they destroyed. This would certainly surprise the leftists, and anyone else for that matter, who was actually living at the time.

              1. My leftist father gets all pissed about the 80s. Why? Because capitalist pigs were allowed to get rich. That’s immoral. Doesn’t matter that they enriched society while producing whatever goods and services they sold in order to get rich. The fact is that they got rich. I’m trying to remember his exact words. Something about rich assholes sailing yachts up and down the coast or something. He wants a legislated maximum and minimum income. The 100%% tax on income above some arbitrary amount will pay for the minimum because it won’t change incentives at all. Those rich will continue to produce even though the profits will be taken away from them. Because… intentions or something.

                1. So what he does he think about the 1980s and 1990s? I pretty sure capitalists got rich then too.

                2. That must make for fun family gatherings.

                  1. @Winston, my economics lessons from him when I was a child were that the invisible hand is government, taking its share whenever money changes hands, and that capitalism means if you are rich your money makes money for you, otherwise you work for a capitalist.

                    @SN, what family gatherings? Dude’s an asshole. A hermit.

                3. He should hang out with my dad. They’d get along great.

                  (It’s been two years and I still can’t get over my father suggesting that Paul Krugman would make a fabulous Treasury Secretary)

              2. “…. the 1970s were some utopia…”

                Utopia has hours long gas lines and rationing? This Utopia place is starting to seem less appealing.

                1. Greg Proops, the comedian, did this whole rant about how Reagan single-hadnedly destroyed the beautiful idealism of the 1970s with his promotion of materialism and capitalism and enabling of corporate greed and all that jazz.

                  And he’s old enough to have lived through that shit, what gives?

            2. Apparently 1978 wasn’t that bad and if they had just held the course with Labour and the practically Lenninist unions things would have been fine.

              I see you’ve met my father.

            3. How long will it take for it to become an article of faith among the progs that if wasn’t for that anti-government teabagging nutcase Boehner then Obama would have created a utopia?

              1. How long will it take for it to become an article of faith among the progs that if wasn’t for that anti-government teabagging nutcase Boehner then Obama would have created a utopia?

                You mean the argument they’ve been making since 2010?

                1. You mean the argument they’ve been making since 2010?

                  I know, I know, I should have know.

                2. Yesterday, an 80 year old dye in the wool democrat lady who I had not seen in several years told me that Bush / Cheyney / Haliburton should be tried for war crimes.

                  I agreed.

                  Then I added, so should Obama. Unlike her, I furnished some specifics, namely the hundreds of children, 16 and under, who have been killed by Obama ordered drone strikes.

                  She replied, “well, it is a war, and people, unfortunately, have to die.”

        2. You owe me a screen wipe, mofo.

      4. See he was the Dem nominee against Reagan in 1984 so obviously he would have been much better and solved all of our problems.

      5. On further thought, this bit reveals their mindset of worshiping a tyrant. They think if Mondale were president that he would pass some kind of energy legislation where Carter would not? Carter would have in a second if he could have. He could not. Mondale could not have either.

        They just think if only a righteous Tyrant were in power he would do all the things they want.

        What miserable little fascists they are.

        1. Not to mention I don’t think many of the progs actually thought in 1984 that Mondale was all that great.

          1. I don’t believe anybody thought Mondale was all that great.

          2. You are correct, Theodore. Even the hardcore yellow dog dems I knew were seriously holding their noses when they voted for Fritz and Geraldine.

            1. That’s what makes it so bizarre to think that some alternate universe with Mondale as POTUS would have done wonders.

      6. Uhh, I’m not sure either. Ol “Fritz” was VP under Carter, and ran against Reagan in 1984.

        I guess they wanted to go back in their time machine and assure Carter got a 2nd term and when he was assassinated, Mondale became Prez.

        1. So he’s historically ignorant. What a shock.

        2. Why Mondale? Why not Dukakis?

      7. Am I missing something? Mondale?

        Yes, Portlandia… it’s like Al Gore was elected.

    5. Jennifer Lawrence is Mystique?!? Now I’m tempted to go see it.

      1. It has a 91% on Rotten Tomatoes and the cast is unbelievable.

        Ian McKellan, Patrick Stewart, Michael Fassbender, James McAvoy, Hugh Jackman, Jennifer Lawrence, Halle Barry, Ellen Page, and Peter Dinklage.

        1. Ellen Page? Does she… does she play a mildly sarcastic, smarter-than-thou youngin’ that lacks a real sense of humour?

          1. You shut your whore mouth. Ellen is delightful.

            1. In these kind of action/ensemble roles she’s just an exposition device. She gets confused by the action, asks a more important character a question, gets an explanation and thus the audience has its hand held throughout the movie.

              That was exactly her role in ‘Inception’

              1. That was exactly her role in ‘Inception’

                Well said, my man, well said. She added nothing to that movie. She wasn’t bad, she just didn’t really contribute.

            2. She’s cute as a speckled pup under a red wagon, I’ll give you that. But I also feel like a prevert when I think that… because she’s what, 30 and she still look 14. And she needs to expand the acting repertoire.

      2. You missed the first one with her on the role? It was actually pretty good. Comic book movies work best when all the important characters have just enough pathos to make you care.

        Although it did have a hilariously awkward training montage.

        1. I pretty much ignore superhero movies at this point. They’re insanely derivative and I’ve seen enough city-destroying fights to last me for quite some time. I’m just sick to fucking death of superheroes.

          However, Lawrence does have the body to pull off Mystique…

          1. However, Lawrence does have the body to pull off Mystique…

            And Rebecca Romijn didn’t?

            1. Did you hear me say one negative thing about Romjin?!?

              1. I have something negative to say about Romjin…

                She isn’t sitting next to me, right now, undressing me with her eyes.

        2. I know Hollywood has never been particularly original, but it would be nice to have something more original than a slew of comic book-based movies with a bland color palette and visuals designed for IMAX.

          1. Something wrong with Teal and Orange and “realistic” color palettes?

            1. I have a soft spot for Technicolor dye imbibition.

              1. I do to as well. I find the history of Technicolor and any color process fascinating.

                And I have read on how Harry Saltzman’s ill-fated attempt to buy Technicolor in 1970s lead to him selling his share of James Bond to United Artists.

          2. I wouldn’t pay money to see it in the theater, but if you have a few hours to kill at home you could do worse than to watch ‘First Class’.

            It works as simple entertainment.

      3. Translation: Epi watches movies looking for somebody to fap to.

        1. It does help. The only reason I suffered through Atlas Shrugged was the actress who played Dagney is hot.

    6. Movies aren’t even disposable entertainment.

      1. Oh, gawd, Nicole, you’re worse than Leni fucking Riefenstahl.

  8. I do not believe any of us could get job at the FBI. I post under the anonymous name ‘widget’ with a real, but whipped-up gmail account. My affection for the lesbian rabbit, named Widget, in the children’s TV series Wow! Wow! Wubbzy! will be my downfall.

    1. That’s just fucking prejudicial to assume Widget is homosexual just because she’s a mechanic who dresses like a man! Bigot! Kaylee Frye could fix anything, and dressed mannish at times! Shame on you!

      1. My wife throws a baseball like a boy, is an electrical engineer, and can fix things around the house, but she doesn’t act quite like Widget. This is hard to explain.

      2. Yeah, but Kaylee had the hots for the most feminine character on that show. So pwnd.

        1. She had sex with the doctor. So pwnd.

          1. That’s what I said. The most feminine character on the show.

            1. Inara was feminine. Simon was effeminate. Not quite the same thing.

              1. He was beta-ish.

        2. Oh, and everyone in the world has the hots for Inara.


          1. Oh, and everyone in the world Verse has the hots for Inara.

          2. Inara was very pretty. But I was more of a Kaylee man.

          3. And oh yeah, how could I forget, and a Zoe man. I was a Kaylee and a Zoe man…at the same time

            *nods slowly*

          4. All the female characters on Firefly were very attractive. But not-fat Christina Hendricks as Ms. Reynolds was amazing.

            1. But not-fat Christina Hendricks as Ms. Reynolds was amazing.


            2. If you take sexual advantage of that girl you will burn in a very special level of hell. A level they reserve for child molesters and people who talk during the movies.

              1. Ehh thats like a couple of years away.

            3. But not-fat Christina Hendricks as Ms. Reynolds was amazing.

              Is she no longer amazing?

          5. Agreed.
            Christina Hendrix in that show, HAWT.

            1. It needs to be said twice, really.

          6. Agreed.
            Christina Hendrix in that show, HAWT.

    2. Even if I had a perfectly clean record and no history of saying anything controversial I could not work for the FBI.

      The first time I was told to do anything remotely unconstitutional I would react in a way that my boss would not approve of. I suspect that would happen on my first day.

  9. WE do not need a small change in an Unconstitutional Act! It is illegal under our Constitution and I have yet to see a Constitutional Convention to change the 4th Amendment! General Warrants are patently
    disallowed by the 4th Amendment. Madison made it abundantly clear. Am I wrong in saying that a Constitutional Convention should be necessary? Has 27 States approved that change? NO!! We are violating our Constitution!

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