If the USA Freedom Act, which passed the House overwhelmingly Wednesday, really reins in the National Security Agency’s bulk telephone metadata collection program, why did so many Republican critics of mass data collection vote against it?
This not only included Rep. Justin Amash, R-Mich., who spearheaded a bipartisan push to end blanket surveillance in 2013, but a virtual who’s who of libertarian-leaning Republican members of the House and their conservative fellow travelers: Thomas Massie, Raul Labrador, Dave Brat, Tim Huelskamp, Jim Jordan, Tom McClintock, Mark Meadows, Mick Mulvaney, Walter Jones, Mark Sanford and Jimmy Duncan. Duncan is the only Republican still in Congress who voted against the Iraq War.
Amash, who explains all his votes on Facebook, argues that the bill in its current form erodes a recent U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit ruling that the mass data collection isn’t legal under Section 215 of the Patriot Act.
The third-term congressman writes, “It’s true that the bill ends the phone dragnet as we currently know it — by having the phone companies themselves hold, search, and analyze certain data at the request of the government, which is worse in many ways given the broader set of data the companies hold — but H.R. 2048 actually expands the statutory basis for the large-scale collection of most data.”
In other words, a federal court ruled that there was no statutory basis for the blanket data collection being carried out by the NSA. The USA Freedom Act as now written, Amash contends, provides one.
Some outside organizations like the Sunlight Foundation have made similar arguments. Michael Macleod-Ball, acting director of the American Civil Liberties Union’s Washington Legislative Office, said in a statement, “Letting Section 215 expire would be preferable to passing the current version of this bill, which fails to adequately protect Americans’ information from unwarranted government intrusion.”