House reverses course, upholds NSA phone snooping as terrorist attacks shift debate

ThomasMassie c0 64 5184 3085 s561x327

With the terrorist-inspired Orlando shooting fresh in their minds, House lawmakers reversed course last week and voted to uphold the government’s ability to snoop through its data when it believes American citizens are involved in terrorism — suggesting the post-Snowden wariness of the NSA has dissipated.

The Thursday vote marked a defeat for civil libertarians, who in 2014 and 2015 won showdowns on the House floor, but whose support has dissipated as terrorist attacks in the U.S. and Europe have reshaped the debate.

The fight is over snooping programs targeting foreigners’ communications under Section 702 of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, but which also end up snaring Americans’ emails and phone calls. Intelligence agencies claim the right to go through that data when they are investigating terrorism and say it’s critical to preventing plots or learning about the contours of attacks, such as the one in Orlando, as they happen.

Civil libertarians argue that the data shouldn’t be collected in the first place and say if agents are going to peer into it, they should get a warrant before looking at Americans’ data under Section 702.

They won that fight on the House floor in 2014, garnering 293 votes — a veto-proof majority — in favor of requiring a warrant. They won again in 2015, albeit a diminished tally of 255 votes in favor. But last week the votes in support dropped below 200, losing to the intelligence backers in a showdown, 222-198.

“Congress should not abandon the Constitution in the face of terrorism,” said Rep. Thomas Massie, the Kentucky Republican who has forced the fight each of the past three years. “Unfortunately, proponents of warrantless surveillance mischaracterized our legislation and its bearing on the investigation in Orlando.”

Via the Washington Times