Opposition to the National Security Agency's
controversial surveillance programmes appeared to grow Tuesday as the
US House prepared to vote on an amendment restricting the collection
of US phone records.
The US House of Representatives is scheduled to debate late Wednesday a number of amendments related to the agency's surveillance in the US. One of the amendments aims to narrow the ability of the NSA to collect private call records and metadata on telephone customers in the US.
The vote will not restrict the surveillance. It is only on the question of whether to include the amendment in the annual defence appropriations bill, which the House is considering this week. The legislation would still have to pass the Senate before going to President Barack Obama.
A statement issued late Tuesday by the White House press office said Obama welcomed a debate about how best to safeguard both national security and the privacy of US citizens, but opposes the effort to "hastily dismantle" counterterrorism tools.
"This blunt approach is not the product of an informed, open, or deliberative process," the statement said, urging the House to reject
Republican Representative Justin Amash said earlier the amendment seeks to restrict what he said was NSA's "blanket authority" under the Patriot Act to collect records and the metadata.
"The recent NSA leaks indicate that the federal government collects phone records and intercepts electronic communications on a scale previously unknown to most Americans," Amash said in a statement.
Under the amendment the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) court would have to receive a statement limiting the collection of records to those that pertain to a person under investigation, Amash said.
"If the court order doesn't have that statement, the NSA doesn't receive the funding to collect those records," Amash said.
A bipartisan group of more than 30 other members of Congress have signed on as co-sponsors.
The bill also requires that secret FISA court opinions be made available to Congress and summaries of the opinions be made available to the public.
"The people have spoken through their representatives," Amash told the Guardian newspaper. "This is an opportunity to vote on something that will substantially limit the ability of the NSA to collect their phone records without suspicion."
It will be the first such vote on restricting NSA surveillance since revelations by former NSA contractor Edward Snowden leaked more detailed information about the surveillance than previously disclosed publicly.
In an apparent effort to kill the amendment, General Keith Alexander, the director of the NSA, on Tuesday held a top secret meeting with several representatives, news reports said.
Amash, who attended the briefing, declined to give specifics about what was discussed, but said he didn't believe Alexander changed anyone's mind.
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