Kennedy Was the Only State Congressman to Vote Down Changes to the NSA Program
Congressman Joe Kennedy III was the only representative from Massachusetts, of the eight members voting in the House of Representatives, who voted down an amendment to tweak the way data is compiled and used by the National Security Agency, which is at the center of a national debate regarding their domestic surveillance.
On Wednesday night, a proposal to change the way the NSA obtains and collects bulk information about phone calls made by US citizens, an issue brought to light by a former employee of the intelligence bureau, Edward Snowden, was narrowly defeated by a 217-205 vote.
The amendment, sponsored and filed by Representatives Justin Amash, a Michigan Republican, and John Conyers Jr., a Democrat from the same state, would have brought an end to the authority of the NSA to have a system of “blanket collection” of records under the Patriot Act. It would have regulated NSA investigators so they would first need to identify a person of interest before collecting phone call records placed by that person.
The proposal also would have stopped the NSA and other agencies from using section 215 of the Patriot Act, which lets them get information about businesses they deem relevant to an investigation as an excuse to collect those records. The amendment was part of a Department of Defense funding bill.
In a statement sent to Boston, Kennedy said while recent revelations about the NSA program have raised serious concerns about the scope of intelligence operations, reforms need to be discussed first and approached thoughtfully later. “News of the NSA program started a robust public discussion, which I believe should continue here in Congress,” he said on Thursday. “But until we have that debate, cutting funding for a program that intelligence officials say has stopped terrorist attacks on U.S. soil seems premature.”
The congressman said that moving forward, the intelligence agency should be responsible and release as much information as possible on the NSA program so that “the American people can make an informed decision about the balance their government must strike between privacy and security.”
Kennedy’s stance mirrored a statement made by President Barack Obama’s press secretary, Jay Carney, two days prior to the vote, that called on the House to reject the amendment and not act so soon. “The President has said that he welcomes a debate about how best to simultaneously safeguard both our national security and the privacy of our citizens,” said Carney. “However, we oppose the current effort in the House to hastily dismantle one of our Intelligence Community’s counterterrorism tools. This blunt approach is not the product of an informed, open, or deliberative process.”
Congressman Stephen Lynch, who voted in favor of the changes, disagreed with Kennedy and Carney, calling for an immediate pushback on the NSA’s “recently disclosed overreach” into the privacy of the American public. “I think it was important that we … send a strong message that the current situation is unacceptable. Hopefully, the NSA and the Administration got the message. We need to rebalance our counterterrorism efforts with the Constitutional rights and personal privacy of innocent Americans,” Lynch said in a statement sent to Boston. “I voted in support of the [amendment] because I believe it will lead to a reasonable set of limitations on what data the NSA can collect.”
Lynch, who introduced his own version of changes to the NSA program back in mid-July, said elected officials need to better protect civil rights and personal privacy, and seek balance between government transparency and accountability, while at the same time promising to maintain national security. “While the amendment failed, we aren’t going away,” he said.