The amendment would have canceled the authority of the NSA under the USA Patriot Act to collect phone records and digital metadata unless an individual was being targeted. The debate pitted those who saw the program as a threat to Americans’ privacy against those who saw canceling the program as a threat to the nation’s security.
“My position has been consistent since Day One,” said Tierney, the ranking member of the National Security, Homeland Defense and Foreign Operations Subcommittee of the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform. “The section 215 of the Patriot Act was overly broad.”
This controversial section expanded the scope of business records the government can obtain in an intelligence investigation with approval from a secret court.
Tierney, an attorney, said he favors a system in which the government has to specify whether someone’s records are relevant to an investigation. He said it is not appropriate to grab millions of Americans’ records just to have them.
While there is a feeling among House members that the present NSA program is not the best, Tierney said some of his colleagues felt it would be better to give the intelligence community more time to improve the system.
“The evidence has been there has been no big rush to improve it,” Tierney said.
Wednesday’s debate followed revelations in recent weeks about the broad scope of the program uncovered by former NSA systems analyst Edward Snowden, who leaked secret documents and details to a British newspaper and later fled to Hong Kong and then to Russia, where he has been holed up at the airport while seeking asylum.
Congressman John Conyers, D-Mich., speaking in support of the amendment, argued that, “All this amendment is intended to do is to curtail the ongoing dragnet collection and storage of the personal records of innocent Americans. It does not de-fund the NSA, and it would allow them to continue to conduct full-fledged surveillance as long as it relates to an actual investigation.”