The White House said Tuesday night that it opposes a House amendment that challenges the National Security Agency’s authority to monitor and seize massive amounts of communications data.
White House press secretary Jay Carney said the measure, proposed by Rep. Justin Amash, Michigan Republican, would “hastily dismantle one of our intelligence community’s counterterrorism tools.”
It is the first proposal in Congress to curtail the NSA’s surveillance activities in the wake of revelations about the agency’s monitoring that were leaked by former NSA contractor Edward Snowden.
“This blunt approach is not the product of an informed, open or deliberative process,” Mr. Carney said. “We urge the House to reject the Amash amendment, and instead move forward with an approach that appropriately takes into account the need for a reasoned review of what tools can best secure the nation.”
Gen. Keith Alexander, who heads the NSA, called Tuesday for a “top secret” meeting with House lawmakers to argue against the proposal, which is expected to come up for a vote this week.
The measure, which would be attached to the defense appropriations bill, ends authority for the “blanket collection of records under the Patriot Act” and bars the NSA and other agencies from using Section 215 of the Patriot Act to collect records, including telephone call records, “that pertain to persons who are not subject to an investigation under Section 215.”
Mr. Carney said President Obama “welcomes a debate about how best to simultaneously safeguard both our national security and the privacy of our citizens.” He said the administration already has taken steps toward that end, including meeting with the Privacy and Civil Liberties Oversight Board.
Paul Rosenzweig, a specialist on defense issues at the conservative Heritage Foundation, said the amendment would limit the federal government’s intelligence-gathering abilities.
“At its core, the proposed amendment is probably unwise and possibly unconstitutional,” he said in a blog post. “The amendment is a blunt instrument that summarily terminates a program that the federal government, under two very different administrations, has thought vital. At a minimum, it appears that the Amash amendment would increase the risks of terrorist attacks by limiting the scope of court-ordered foreign intelligence collection and thereby depriving the U.S. of valuable intelligence it currently collects.”