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Originally published December 19 2014

Congress authorizes federal government to collect and use all private communications by U.S. citizens

by J. D. Heyes

(NaturalNews) A House Republican is criticizing a piece of legislation just passed by Congress as grossly unconstitutional because it essentially gives the federal government and local law enforcement "unlimited access to the communications of every American."

As reported by, Rep. Justin Amash of Wisconsin said he found a passage in the Intelligence Authorization Act for fiscal year 2015 that had been amended with a section authorizing "the acquisition, retention and dissemination" of all communications data from American citizens. After making the discovery, Amash tried in vain to organize a roll call (on the record) vote on the bill.

However, the measure was passed December 11 on a 325-100 voice vote (which absolves members from having to actually identify whether or not they supported the legislation), giving the bill a green light to advance. Amash called it "one of the most egregious sections of law I've ever encountered during my time as a representative."

[Editor's note: A "voice vote" is generally the quickest kind of vote a deliberative legislative body can take. The presiding officer of the chamber merely puts the question to the body, which then signals by voice "aye" or "nay;" the count is an estimate by the presiding officer; in close cases this can be an imprecise method but according to the final "count" in this instance, it appears as if most lawmakers supported the bill].

A report in National Journal said 55 Democrats and 45 Republicans opposed the 47-page bill. The online news site also reported that the measure had already passed the Senate by unanimous consent (no opposition), and President Obama is expected to sign it.

'Troubling new provision ...'

According to, the bill will permit authorities to monitor and collect Americans' private communications without a court order (as required by the Fourth Amendment) and then given to law enforcement agencies for investigation and possible prosecution. The bill also codifies and essentially legalizes mass warrantless surveillance, NSA style, on the country - and all without so much as a few words of debate.

In a letter to his congressional colleagues - part of his last-ditch effort to thwart the bill - Amash pleaded with lawmakers to reject the measure on constitutional grounds:

The intelligence reauthorization bill, which the House will vote on today, contains a troubling new provision that for the first time statutorily authorizes spying on U.S. citizens without legal process. ...

Sec. 309 authorizes "the acquisition, retention, and dissemination" of nonpublic communications, including those to and from U.S. persons. The section contemplates that those private communications of Americans, obtained without a court order, may be transferred to domestic law enforcement for criminal investigations.

To be clear, Sec. 309 provides the first statutory authority for the acquisition, retention, and dissemination of U.S. persons' private communications obtained without legal process such as a court order or a subpoena. The administration currently may conduct such surveillance under a claim of executive authority, such as E.O. 12333. However, Congress never has approved of using executive authority in that way to capture and use Americans' private telephone records, electronic communications, or cloud data.

Sec. 309 gives NSA carte blanche to conduct surveillance on Americans

The letter went on to note that the bill's supporters say it contains provisions that actually weaken the executive branch's ability to retain Americans' private communications beyond five years. But he said that, according to the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence, the executive branch already generally follows that guideline.

"In exchange for the data retention requirements that the executive already follows, Sec. 309 provides a novel statutory basis for the executive branch's capture and use of Americans' private communications," Amash wrote. "The Senate inserted the provision into the intelligence reauthorization bill [the night before the House vote]. That is no way for Congress to address the sensitive, private information of our constituents - especially when we are asked to expand our government's surveillance powers."

Other experts say Amash's concerns are well-placed.

"This whole thing is so upsetting to me," John Napier Tye, a former State Department Internet policy official who turned public whistleblower in July, told US News & World Report.

"It is good that Congress is trying to regulate 12333 activities," Tye continued. "But the language in this bill just endorses a terrible system that allows the NSA to take virtually everything Americans do online and use it however it wants according to the rules it writes."

He said the measure also allows the U.S. government to share Americans' personal data with foreign governments as well.

Will Adams, chief of staff to Amash, said there will be congressional pushback against the measure next year, according to US News.


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