Last week, the Obama Administration dodged a bullet when its last-minute lobbying defeated an amendment that would have ended the NSA’s massive surveillance program of American citizens. The amendment, proposed by Rep. Justin Amash (R-Mich.) to a defense-spending bill, would have stopped the collection of intelligence data pursuant to Section 215 of the USA PATRIOT Act unless the targets of the investigation actually were under investigation. Under this Administration's interpretation of the law, it vacuums up data on virtually every electronic communication of every person in the country, by using Section 215 far more broadly than the law provides, or was intended to allow.
The amendment barely failed -- falling short by just a mere 12 votes in a vote that exhibited rare bipartisan coalitions both supporting, and opposing, the amendment. Apparently, a push by House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Cali.) in the final hours before the vote was the saving grace for the NSA surveillance program.
The surprisingly narrow vote, however, is a good sign that privacy advocates on the Hill -- reflecting broader concerns of the American people -- are finally giving this massive surveillance program the scrutiny it deserves.
What Amash understands, and what establishment cronies like Pelosi fail to understand, is that there is a changing tide of public opinion regarding America’s national security programs. The American public no longer is content to give Uncle Sam a blank check to do whatever he pleases, so long as it is done to “protect us from the bad guys.” Revelations by NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden showed, for the first time in broad daylight, just how far the government has gone since 9-11 to collect all manner of private data on law-abiding civilians not under any criminal or national security investigation. The still-unfolding IRS scandal feeds into this concern.
Americans now appear ready to dial it back, in a big way.