John Fleming Says House-Approved ‘NSA Reform’ Is Not Reform At All

Though once co-sponsoring the USA Freedom Act, which was intended to curb the National Security Agency’s power of collecting Americans’ phone and internet records, Rep. John Fleming (R-LA) said he voted against the legislation after it was tampered with by the White House through a number of backroom deals.

“Good intentions are not enough when it comes to protecting the American people from unconstitutional surveillance by their own government,” said Fleming. “The original version of this legislation, which I cosponsored, contained strong reforms to end the NSA’s indiscriminate collection of Americans’ calling records and internet transactions.”

Fleming said the new USA Freedom Act, not the original that he sponsored, does not go far enough in making sure that Americans are not spied on by the federal government. Instead, Fleming said the new legislation has loopholes that allows the NSA to continue to collect data on Americans.

“But some of those provisions in the initial bill were eliminated at the last minute and new loopholes were created in back-room deals with the White House, and it no longer does enough to stop the large-scale and arbitrary collection of Americans’ records,” said Fleming. “Under the bill I voted against today, the NSA retains broad latitude to continue domestic spying, without probable cause.”

“Meaningful reform of NSA data collection was not accomplished today,” said Fleming. “The federal government is charged with protecting the American people, and it must do so without yielding such broad authority to the NSA that our constitutional protections are placed in jeopardy.”

The legislation passed the House of Representatives on a 303-121 vote. The new bill, extends the Patriot Act’s controversial section that allows the federal government to collect bulks of data until 2017. In the old legislation, that Fleming supported, the bill forced the expiration of that section in 2015.  

Fleming was not the only co-sponsor not to support the new legislation. Libertarian conservative Rep. Justin Amash (R-Mich) did not support the bill either for the same reasons as Fleming, saying that the bill was changed at the last-minute via backroom deals with the Obama administration.

“This morning’s bill maintains and codifies a large-scale, unconstitutional domestic spying program,” Amash wrote on his Facebook page. “It claims to end ‘bulk collection’ of Americans’ data only in a very technical sense: The bill prohibits the government from, for example, ordering a telephone company to turn over all its call records every day.”

Amash said that the bill, which was originally drafted by Rep. Jim Sensenbrenner, R-Wis., was “so weakened” by behind-the-scenes negotiations that it allows the government to order large swaths of American phone records “without probable cause.”

For example, the government could order AT&T to turn over all phone records for a particular area code or for “phone calls made east of the Mississippi,” according to Amash.

The backroom deals did, however, leave in sections of the original legislation that requires the secret Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court (FISC) to publish its judgement for the general public. And, the bill allows the FISC to appoint legal counsel to argue on the behalf of Americans, with a requirement.

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