House Backs Amendments to Limit Government Spying, Spending

The House has voted in support of amendments to limit government spying on Americans and to limit funding for spying "backdoors."

NSA spying amendment

The U.S. House of Representatives voted in force June 19 in support of an amendment to curb spying on Americans by the National Security Agency (NSA) and the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA).

The amendment passed with a vote of 293 to 193, and was tacked on to a $570 billion defense spending bill.

The legislation was drafted by Rep. Justin Amash, R-Mich., and Rep. John Conyers Jr., D-Mich., and introduced late Monday by a "coalition of 32 members of Congress," the pair said in a June 18 statement.

The legislation was originally proposed a year ago, but failed to find enough backing, failing by a vote of 205 to 217, according to the Electronic Frontier Foundation.

H.R. 2399, the Limiting Internet and Blanket Electronic Review of Telecommunications and Email Act (LIBERT-E Act), restricts the government's ability, under the Patriot Act, to collect information on Americans who aren't part of an ongoing investigation. It also requires secret Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) court opinions to be made available to Congress and for summaries to be made available to the public.

"The bill puts some teeth into the FISA court's determination of whether records the government wants are actually relevant to an investigation," Conyers and Amash said in a statement. "It also makes sure that innocent Americans' information isn't needlessly swept up into a government database. LIBERT-E prohibits the type of government dragnet that the leaked Verizon order revealed."

The documents leaked in June 2013 by one-time NSA contractor Edward Snowden opened Americans' eyes to the spying practices of our government. These practices included paying major wireless carriers to wiretap phones.

After combing through portions of the leaked documents, The New York Times reported Nov. 7 that the U.S. government pays AT&T more than $10 million a year as part of a contract "not under subpoenas or court orders compelling the company to participate."

The report went on to state that AT&T charges the government $325 to activate each surveillance account and a daily rate of between $5 and $10 a day to maintain it, depending on the information gathered. Verizon and Sprint were said to be paid million a year for similar efforts.

"The recent NSA leaks indicate that the federal government collects phone records and intercepts electronic communications on a scale previously unknown to most Americans," said Conyers and Amash. "The LIBERT-E Act imposes reasonable limits on the federal government's surveillance."

Rep. Zoe Lofgren, D-Calif., with Rep. Thomas Massie, R-Ky., also added an amendment to the Defense Appropriations Act to cut funding to two "backdoors" currently offering intelligence agencies access to Americans' private data and correspondence.

"One 'backdoor' would be shut by prohibiting the search of government databases for information pertaining to U.S. citizens, without a warrant," explained a statement. "The second door to be shut prohibits the NSA and CIA from requiring 'backdoors' into products."

A number of major companies insisted the NSA didn't have backdoor access to their servers or databases, only to discover that doors had been carved out without their knowledge.

"When our engineers work tirelessly to improve security, we imagine we're protecting you against criminals, not our own government," Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg vented in a March Facebook post.

"The House took a big step tonight," Lofgren celebrated in a June 19 tweet, "to #ShutTheBackDoor on unwarranted government surveillance by passing the Massie-Lofgren amendment."