House protects surveillance program before passing military spending bill

Defense bill includes amendment by Rep. Tom Cole to head off potential furloughs next year of some civilian military workers, including thousands in Oklahoma.
by Chris Casteel Published: July 24, 2013

After fierce debate over the limits of domestic spying, the House on Wednesday voted to protect the federal government's ability to collect phone records and other data related to U.S. citizens who aren't suspected of terrorism.

By a vote of 217 to 205, members defeated a proposal to restrict the government's data collection. The Oklahoma members split on the proposal. Reps. Jim Bridenstine, R-Tulsa, and Markwayne Mullin, R-Westville, voted to restrict the surveillance program. Reps. Tom Cole, R-Moore, James Lankford, R-Oklahoma City, and Frank Lucas, R-Cheyenne, voted against the proposed changes.

Liberal Democrats joined conservative Republicans to accuse the National Security Agency of violating constitutional protections against illegal searches and to support an amendment that would restrict data collection to cases where a suspected terrorist was targeted.

Rep. James Sensenbrenner, the Milwaukee Republican who helped write the Patriot Act, said the NSA had gone far beyond the limits set by the legislation in pulling records that weren't relevant to an investigation.

Rep. Justin Amash, R-Mich., who wrote the amendment, said the government “collects phone records without suspicion of every American in the United States.”

The amendment was prompted by revelations by former NSA contractor Edward Snowden about top secret data collection efforts, including the mass collection of U.S. phone records.

The Obama administration lobbied against Amash's amendment, and members of congressional intelligence committees defended the NSA's actions, saying there was no collection of the content of phone calls or emails and that there were multiple levels of oversight.

Rep. Michele Bachmann, R-Minn., said it was “a false narrative that the federal government is taking in the content of American phone calls and emails.”

She said there was more information about U.S. citizens in a phone book than in the NSA database.

“Your name, your address is in the phone book,” she said. “Your name, your address is not in this NSA database.”

The proposal was offered as an amendment to the $600 billion military spending bill for the fiscal year that begins in October. That bill was approved Wednesday night. The House overwhelmingly passed a separate amendment that essentially restated the limits on data collection under the Patriot Act.

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by Chris Casteel
Washington Bureau
Chris Casteel began working for The Oklahoman's Norman bureau in 1982 while a student at the University of Oklahoma. After covering the police beat, federal courts and the state Legislature in Oklahoma City, he moved to Washington in 1990, where...
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