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House Votes to Limit NSA Surveillance on Americans

The House passed Massie's bill late Thursday. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call File Photo)
The House passed Massie's bill late Thursday. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call File Photo)

Defying the Obama administration, a bipartisan veto-proof House majority voted to rein in NSA surveillance of Americans late Thursday.  

The 293-123 vote on the amendment by libertarian-minded Rep. Thomas Massie, R-Ky., had majority support in both parties, although a number of leaders in both parties and chairmen opposed it. Some 135 Republicans and 158 Democrats backed it.  

The amendment would prohibit the National Security Agency and the CIA from placing surveillance backdoors on commercial tech products and prohibit warrantless collection of Americans’ online data. Its future in the Senate is unclear, but it’s a sign the House believes a recently passed House bill to roll back the NSA doesn’t go far enough.  

The vote came after a spirited, if brief, debate on the House floor.  

“The American people can be kept safe and we can follow the Constitution,” Massie said. He said the NSA should have a warrant to access Americans’ information.  

And he said the NSA should not spend money to put backdoors into their products.  

When the government “causes these companies to intentionally make defects in their product, they make Americans less safe. They make Americans’ data less safe. and they compromise the quality of American goods overseas. But ultimately this is about the Constitution. If you believe in the Constitution, if you believe that it’s still valid, if you think we can honor the fourth amendment and that we can still keep people safe, I urge you to vote for this bill.”  

Judiciary Chairman Bob Goodlatte, R-Va., ripped the amendment as something that would help terrorists and endanger national security and undo a carefully negotiated balance the on the earlier bill.  

“Islamic radical terrorists are on the march in Iraq and the leader has publicly threatened to attack America,” he said. “Syria has become a vortex of jihadists from across the globe and the director of national intelligence and the director of homeland security have warned of the growing threat jihadists pose to our homeland. …This amendment would create a blind spot for the intelligence community tracking terrorists with direct connections to the U.S. homeland. …Such an impediment would put American lives at risk of another terrorist attack.”  

The bill had very unusual bipartisan support.  

On the Republican side, newly minted Majority Leader-elect Kevin McCarthy of California voted no as did sitting Majority Leader Eric Cantor, R-Va., but newly minted Majority Whip-elect Steve Scalise of Louisiana and Republican Conference Chairwoman Cathy McMorris Rodgers voted aye.  

On the Democratic side, Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi of California led the vast majority of her party who voted with Massie, but Minority Whip Steny H. Hoyer of Maryland voted no.  

The amendment’s backers cheered afterward.