- - Tuesday, August 27, 2013


As the actress Jennifer Aniston once said, “There are no regrets in life, just lessons.” Given recent developments, some members of Congress must be having second thoughts about their support for the National Security Agency’s domestic spying operation. They now have their opportunity to show that they’ve learned their lesson.

Last month, the House narrowly defeated an amendment offered by Rep. Justin Amash, Michigan Republican, that would have cracked down on the domestic snooping by prohibiting the dragnet collection of every Americans’ phone records and GPS location. The proposal failed on a 217-205 vote after furious lobbying from the White House, the intelligence community and the leadership of both political parties. House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, San Francisco Democrat, was likely the most effective in quietly corralling members into opposing any reform. During the George W. Bush presidency, Mrs. Pelosi called the Patriot Act a “massive invasion of privacy,” but now she’s silent on the issue, as long as President Obama is the one doing the invading.

Since that vote, not a day goes by without new revelations regarding the top-secret surveillance program. The National Security Agency eavesdropped on diplomatic negotiations at the United Nations, which is perhaps not too surprising. Spies have also used the powerful email and telephone-tapping equipment to check up on ex-wives and love interests. Officials continue to downplay this abuse, insisting the mistakes are accidental and that problems are dealt with internally.

“Over the past decade, very rare instances of willful violations of NSA’s authorities have been found,” the National Security Agency admitted in a statement. “NSA takes very seriously allegations of misconduct, and cooperates fully with any investigations — responding as appropriate. NSA has zero tolerance for willful violations of the agency’s authorities.”

There’s plenty of reason not to trust these flimsy excuses. A recently declassified court ruling from 2011 found the government “disclosed substantial misrepresentation” of the National Security Agency’s data-collection program. U.S. District Court Judge John D. Bates concluded that the “volume and nature of the information it has been collecting is fundamentally different from what the court had been led to believe.” The agency buys the silence of private email providers and social-media companies by paying millions for access to personal data and messages.

Mr. Amash has introduced another bill, H.R. 2399, that gives rueful politicians a second chance to limit the spy agency’s ability to collect telephone records that do not have a reasonable connection to an ongoing terrorism investigation. The free-standing legislation also makes available to members of Congress the court records and orders regarding the surveillance program, items that should never have been withheld in the first place. The public would be allowed to see summaries of the court orders with appropriate redactions for national security.

Opponents of Mr. Amash’s original amendment have a chance to leave behind their regrets and prove they’ve learned their lesson by doing something to restore Fourth Amendment protections.

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