Justin Amash vs. the NSA: Does National Security Really Trump Constitutional Rights?


On Thursday, the House will be voting on a new set of restrictions to be placed on the National Security Agency's controversial phone surveillance program, which has caused backlash from members of the intelligence community and the White House.

Director of National Intelligence James Clapper said he would be "very concerned" were the new limits to be passed. The amendment is to a defense spending bill was written by Rep. Justin Amash (R-Michigan).

Rep. Amash stated, "The people have spoken through their representatives ... This is an opportunity to vote on something that will substantially limit the ability of the NSA to collect their phone records without suspicion."

The bill's amendment removes the "authority for blanket collections under the PATRIOT Act." It also removes the ability of the intelligence community to collect telephone records of those "who are not subject to an investigation."

NSA Director Gen. Keith Alexander also said, "What you can see is that everybody wants to ensure we protect civil liberties and privacy and defend this country ... We have that responsibility, and the issue is, how do we do that? How do we take care of our people and protect our civil liberties and privacy? This is a tough issue."

But why does the intelligence community knowingly acknowledge the fact that civil liberties need to be protected, but then move on to state that we need these programs? Is there any way they can accomplish their job without stepping on the Constitution? No, seems to be the answer the intelligence community keeps on giving.

Senator Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) spoke at the Center for American Progress that the post-9/11 surveillance state could become a permanent reality. Senator Wyden warned, “The combination of increasingly advanced technology with a breakdown in the checks and balances that limit government action could lead us to a surveillance state that cannot be reversed.”

Nevertheless, White House Spokesman Jay Carney voiced the administration’s opposition to the new restrictions in the Amash bill. Carney called Amash’s amendment a “blunt approach” and “not the product of an informed, open or deliberative process.” Again it becomes clear that while the White House publicly supports transparency in government, they have grown too dependent on the NSA’s tactics to let go of them now, whether they are right or wrong. It is understandable clearly that the programs enacted by the NSA provide intelligence of great utility to the U.S. government.

The problem lies in the refusal to acknowledge that there may be a breach in civil liberties through this intelligence gathering. The law needs to be the first point of consideration here. And trying to put down criticisms is harming the debate over these programs.