The vote for privacy was probably closer than anyone expected.
On Wednesday, the House voted on an amendment, authorized for a full vote only two days before, to gut the National Security Agency’s practice of tracking every phone call in the U.S, and limit tracking only to the targets of criminal investigations.
The amendment failed by the narrow score of 217-205 in a vote that was remarkably bipartisan: Democrats voted 111-83; Republicans 94-134.
Two months before, this issue was the last thing on Congress’s mind. But then former NSA contractor Edward Snowden leaked evidence that the agency gets a rolling court order to track every American’s Verizon calls, and that all the other major carriers follow suit. Soon, even President Obama had acknowledged and defended the program, and the Director of National Intelligence made a public statement that it had been renewed.
The best immediate chance of ending the program came Wednesday, with Rep. Justin Amash‘s (R-Mich.) amendment to a defense appropriations bill that would cut the NSA’s funding for tracking the metadata of Americans’ calls. It sparked an immediate PR debate. Privacy activists, on one hand, urged Americans to call Congress to support Amash. The White House, on the other, released an emergency statement urging the House to shut the amendment down.
But activists had sent a message. Representatives took to Twitter, bragging in droves that they’d voted for Amash’s amendment, pledging their support for a new ideal. Amash retweeted more than a dozen of them.
Here’s a link to my Facebook page & a brief statement why I voted for the Amash amendment to defense approps bill – https://t.co/vXXXznlHw2
— Rep. Kevin Yoder (@RepKevinYoder) July 25, 2013
— Rep. Tulsi Gabbard (@TulsiPress) July 24, 2013
— Rep. Mike Coffman (@RepMikeCoffman) July 25, 2013
— Bill Johnson (@RepBillJohnson) July 25, 2013
— Mike Fitzpatrick (@RepFitzpatrick) July 25, 2013
— Diane Black (@RepDianeBlack) July 25, 2013
— Rep. Mike Honda (@RepMikeHonda) July 25, 2013
A number of pro-privacy voters on Twitter have already declared that support of the Amash amendment will be a litmus test for them in coming elections.
Illustration by Jason Reed