The House of Representatives's Thursday approval of the Intelligence Authorization Act for 2015 has raised the hackles of civil liberties advocates and some lawmakers for its potential to dilute Americans' rights as well as for the way the vote was done.
The act, H.R. 4681 okays funding for intelligence agencies and grants broad authority to the executive branch.
Rep. Justin Amash (R.-Mich.) called the act “one of the most egregious sections of law I've encountered during my time as a representative.” The Congressman contended that the legislation “grants the executive branch virtually unlimited access to the communications of every American.” That's a premise that doesn't sit well with some members of Congress and the American public, still stinging from revelations from Snowden documents on widespread government surveillance.
The Senate passed the bill, which the House had already okayed in May, on Wednesday but Senate Intelligence Committee Chairwoman Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) added an amendment, sending the act back to the House for a vote.
In what a report in The Free Thought Project termed “a sneak attack on civil liberties,” the House was scheduled to give their ayes and nays in voice vote which would pass the bill with no record being made of who voted for and against it. The hasty vote also left little room for debate.
The voice vote was squelched, however, in favor of the more traditional—and fully recorded—roll call vote after a review of the legislation by Amash's staff sent him “to the House floor to demand a roll call vote on the bill so that everyone's vote would have to be recorded.” Amash also sent an eleventh-hour letter to his Congressional colleagues asking them to vote against the bill with its “troubling new provision that for the first time statutorily authorizes spying on U.S. citizens without legal process.”
At issue is the new Section 309 added by Feinstein's committee, which Amash noted “authorizes ‘the acquisition, retention, and dissemination' of nonpublic communications, including those to and from U.S. persons.” That, he said, means that “those private communications of Americans, obtained without a court order, may be transferred to domestic law enforcement for criminal investigations.”
Proponents of the bill claimed that it actually tempers executive authority.
Privacy advocates have long been troubled by the expanded spying and data collection powers sanctioned by Congress in the aftermath of Sept. 11.