Earlier this month the House of Representatives passed the Massie-Lofgren Amendment to the Defense Appropriation bill that would prohibit the National Security Agency (NSA) from (1) rifling through the stored communications of Americans without a warrant, and (2) trying to sabotage Internet security by forcing private companies to weaken the privacy protections of their customers by installing "backdoors" into their software with the goal of enabling domestic surveillance. Under the pretext of monitoring foreign communications, the NSA has amassed a huge database that includes the communications of Americans that its minions claim it has the authority to search without seeking a warrant. The amendment would prohibit the spending of any funds by the NSA for either activity.
Importantly, the amendment which passed by a vote of 255 to 174 would simply require that federal officials who want to look at the communications of an American citizen go get a warrant as provided for by the Fourth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.
Now the chief Congressional stooge for the surveillance state, chairman of the House Intelligence Committee Devin Nunes (R-Calif.) has sent out a letter urging all of those members of Congress who voted for the Massie-Lofgren Amendment to reconsider and rescind their votes.
Nunes includes a letter from confessed perjuror Director of Central Intelligence James Clapper who claims that the requirement to obtain a warrant would unduly interfere with the identification of terrorist plots in the U.S. As examples, Clapper then mentions such plots as the 9/11 atrocities, Fort Hood, the Underwear Bomber, the Navy Yard shootings, and Boston Marathon bombing. For his part Nunes notes that "in recent weeks, law enforcement agencies have disrupted homegrown terrorist attacks in Garland, Texas and Boston, Massachusetts." So far as I can tell from news reports, not one of the attacks and plots mentioned by either Clapper or Nunes was identified in advance by NSA surveillance. (And even had they been, tolerating such surveillance is still not worth the damage caused to our civil liberties.)
Below are some particularly salient remarks about protecting American civil liberties made during debate over the amendment.
Rep. Thomas Massie (R-Ky.) declared:
The American people can be kept safe, and we can follow the Constitution. We don't have to disregard it, and that is what this amendment would allow us to do, to keep the American people safe while protecting their civil liberties. There are two provisions here, and they both close backdoors. One backdoor currently allows, without probable cause or a warrant, for the NSA to query a database of American persons' information. This is wrong. They should have a warrant.
The other part of this amendment would prevent money from being spent to fund companies to put backdoors into products. When the government causes these companies to intentionally make defects in their products, they make Americans less safe. They make Americans' data less safe, and they compromise the quality of American goods overseas. Ultimately, this is about the Constitution, and if you believe in the Constitution, if you believe that it is still valid, if you think we can honor the Fourth Amendment and that we can still keep people safe, then I urge you to vote for this amendment.
In support, Rep. Tulsi Gabbard (D-Hawaii):
Our number one priority is keeping the American people safe. We do that by focusing our resources on those who actually pose a threat to our safety, while upholding the freedoms and civil liberties of the American people, not by continuing this dragnet spying on millions of Americans. There is no evidence to date that these programs have made our country more secure. Not a single taxpayer dollar should be used to fund a program that spies on innocent Americans, violating the principles of liberty and freedom that so many have fought and given their lives for.
Rep. Ted Poe (R-Texas) further noted:
The NSA has shown they will always interpret the law to the extent that allows them to seize the information. That is why the law has to be much more clear to the NSA. We all must remember that the NSA was violating the PATRIOT Act, as written. This amendment does something that is very concrete. It tells the NSA: Get a warrant. Get a warrant through the front door. You get a warrant through the backdoor. You can't spy on Americans unless you get a warrant.
As Cato Institute Policy Analyst for Homeland Security and Civil Liberties Patrick Eddington pointed out:
The Nunes-Clapper letter is the first salvo in the battle over the fate of this critically important surveillance reform measure. It will not be the last.
It also demonstrates that despite the enormity of the revelations provided to the world by Edward Snowden about the scope and illegality of the U.S. government's mass surveillance programs, the Intelligence Community's power to fight back remains potent -- especially when its ostensible watchdogs are its biggest supporters and apologists.
All too true. Let's hope that the members of Congress will not be fooled by these additional lies from national security state bootlickers.
And, before I forget, James Clapper should be fired and prosecuted for lying to Congress. See video below.