We've been talking about the effort by Rep. Justin Amash to pass an amendment to the defense appropriations bill that would strip funding from the NSA when it comes to their surveillance efforts. While some in the House were trying to block his amendment from getting anywhere, it's been ruled in order and is likely to be voted on this week, most likely tomorrow (Wednesday). To be clear (as we'll describe in more detail below), it only tries to stop the funding of one specific program: the bulk collection of metadata. You can see the amendment here, but the key text:
None of the funds made available by this Act may be used to execute a Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court order pursuant to section 501 of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act of 1978 (50 U.S.C. 1861) that does not include the following sentence: ‘‘This Order limits the collection of any tangible things (including telephone numbers dialed, telephone numbers of incoming calls, and the duration of calls) that may be authorized to be collected pursuant to this Order to those tangible things that pertain to a person who is the subject of an investigation described in section 501 of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act of 1978 (50 U.S.C. 1861).’’
To translate this back to English, it's saying that Congress would basically defund the vast dragnet gathering of every bit of metadata done by the NSA on all phone records (and potentially other bulk records not yet revealed). These are done under a very questionable interpretation of §215 of the Patriot Act, which is the "tangible things" section or the "business records" section. In the law, it's also known as 50 USC 1861, where any common sense reading of the law would suggest that it only applies to specific records related to a non-US person under investigation. But, it's been twisted and stretched to mean the NSA can collect all records on all phone calls to search through at a later date at their leisure. What Amash's amendment is seeking to do is to basically say no funds can be use for this crazy and twisted interpretation, but rather funds can be used for the original and common sense interpretation. That is, the feds can still request business records under this section, but only if those specific records "pertain to a person who is the subject of an investigation."
In short: this part of the law can no longer be used to justify "collect everything and sort it out later."
However, since NSA supporters were unable to kill the Amash amendment outright, it looks like they've moved onto a sneaky alternative move: getting Rep. Richard Nugent to introduce a competing amendment that looks like it does something similar in defunding NSA surveillance, but in reality just reinforces the status quo. In other words, the Nugent amendment is a nefarious red herring, designed to attract votes from Reps away from Amash's amendment. It's a pretty scammy trick. The Nugent Amendment reads as follows:
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Via Chuck Sherwood, Senior Associate, TeleDimensions, Inc