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Amidst Gruber & CIA Report, Congress Passes Bill Giving Police Unlimited Access to Citizens’ Private Communications

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Published on: December 13, 2014

In the middle of the spotlight being on Obamacare Architect Jonathan Gruber and the release of the CIA Torture report, the Republican led House rushed through the Intelligence Authorization Act for 2015 with practically no debate. However, Rep. Justin Amash (R-MI) forced what would normally be a “voice vote” (passing the bill by voice without a written record) to a roll call vote because he believes the bill “grants the executive branch virtually unlimited access to the communications of every American.”

According to Amash, “When I learned that the Intelligence Authorization Act for FY 2015 was being rushed to the floor for a vote—with little debate and only a voice vote expected (i.e., simply declared “passed” with almost nobody in the room)—I asked my legislative staff to quickly review the bill for unusual language. What they discovered is one of the most egregious sections of law I’ve encountered during my time as a representative: It grants the executive branch virtually unlimited access to the communications of every American.”

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The Michigan representative sent a letter to his colleagues in the House admonishing them to vote “no” on the bill.

Dear Colleague:

The intelligence reauthorization bill, which the House will vote on today, contains a troubling new provision that for the first time statutorily authorizes spying on U.S. citizens without legal process.

Last night, the Senate passed an amended version of the intelligence reauthorization bill with a new Sec. 309—one the House never has considered. Sec. 309 authorizes “the acquisition, retention, and dissemination” of nonpublic communications, including those to and from U.S. persons. The section contemplates that those private communications of Americans, obtained without a court order, may be transferred to domestic law enforcement for criminal investigations.

To be clear, Sec. 309 provides the first statutory authority for the acquisition, retention, and dissemination of U.S. persons’ private communications obtained without legal process such as a court order or a subpoena. The administration currently may conduct such surveillance under a claim of executive authority, such as E.O. 12333. However, Congress never has approved of using executive authority in that way to capture and use Americans’ private telephone records, electronic communications, or cloud data.

Supporters of Sec. 309 claim that the provision actually reins in the executive branch’s power to retain Americans’ private communications. It is true that Sec. 309 includes exceedingly weak limits on the executive’s retention of Americans’ communications. With many exceptions, the provision requires the executive to dispose of Americans’ communications within five years of acquiring them—although, as HPSCI admits, the executive branch already follows procedures along these lines.

In exchange for the data retention requirements that the executive already follows, Sec. 309 provides a novel statutory basis for the executive branch’s capture and use of Americans’ private communications. The Senate inserted the provision into the intelligence reauthorization bill late last night. That is no way for Congress to address the sensitive, private information of our constituents—especially when we are asked to expand our government’s surveillance powers.

I urge you to join me in voting “no” on H.R. 4681, the intelligence reauthorization bill, when it comes before the House today.

Justin Amash
Member of Congress

The bill passed 325-100. However, Amash said that “With more time to spread the word, we would have stopped this bill.”

Forty-five Republicans and 55 Democrats voted against the bill to protect the rights of the people. Amash listed all the names of those that voted “No” and thanked them for doing so. To see the list, click here.

Rep. Amash has been known as a man that takes to Facebook with every vote he makes and gives the reason for his vote, allowing for true transparency in a representative, something that is not commonly seen.

He has also taken a strong stand to protect the rights of the people under the Fourth Amendment.

Last year, Amash blasted Senator Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) after she cried about the CIA spying on her and her senate colleagues. He called her a hypocrite and said politicians like her were the reason the public doesn’t trust congress.

In addressing the unconstitutional snooping of the National Security Agency, Amash said the protections of the Fourth Amendment were necessary to restrict such dangerous violations of privacy.

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