As Washington D.C. prepares to vote on the Intelligence Authorization Act (IAA) or H.R. 4127, giving the intelligence community freedom to gather content from Americans’ phone and electronic communications without scrutiny, few media outlets are taking the time to report on what’s at stake.
To Rep. Justin Amash (R-MI), doing nothing is not an option.
— Justin Amash (@justinamash) December 1, 2015
Earlier today Amash sent congressmen a letter urging them to “reject reauthorization of surveillance authorities until our Fourth Amendment concerns are addressed.”
In the letter, Amash also explained why debating H.R. 4127 is important, and why granting the intelligence community more powers goes against the Constitution of the United States.
“Last year,” Amash’s letter reads “House and Senate leadership used the IAA to rush through a provision that permits the government to acquire, retain, and disseminate nonpublic telephone or electronic communications (i.e., content) of United States persons without the consent of the person or proper legal process.”
IAA’s wording suggests that private communications could be “transferred to domestic law enforcement for criminal investigations.” Under IAA’s authority, the content of private communications of Americans is obtained without a court order.
Since former concerns raised by Amash were never addressed as the bill was being amended, the Michigan congressman believes Congress and the American people “deserve real substantive debate” before allowing the intelligence community to continue its assault on privacy.
More from the letter:
“The administration has historically conducted such surveillance under a claim of executive authority, such as E.O. 12333. However, Congress has never before approved using executive authority in that way to capture and use Americans’ private telephone records, electronic communications, or cloud data.”
On December 9, 2014, the Senate passed an amendment to the IAA for Fiscal Year 2015 (H.R. 4681) that was not part of the original bill. Quickly, the amendment moved through the House, and representatives voted on the new addition without knowing what the newly added provision (Section 309) was about. On the next day, Amash explained, “then-Chairman Mike Rogers attempted to suspend the rules and agree to the Senate amendment by voice vote—passing into law a provision virtually no one knew about and that had thus far received no real vote or been subject to any real debate.”
In order to have everyone’s votes recorded, Amash demanded a roll call. Four hours later, the House passed the measure. Amash and other 99 congressmen voted against it, but 325 others voted in favor.
In June of 2015, Amash offered an amendment to IAA that would have removed “which shall permit the acquisition, retention, and dissemination of covered communications subject to the limitation in subparagraph (B)” from the law. The committee promptly ruled Amash’s amendment out of order.
But according to Amash, intelligence committees and the intelligence community claim that his provision is harmless. Instead of allowing the amendment to be considered, the attempt to remove compromising wording from IAA caused a furor.