NSA Mass Surveillance Survives House Vote

Tom Brewster is TechWeek Europe's Security Correspondent. He has also been named BT Information Security Journalist of the Year in 2012 and 2013.

Amendment to the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act falls at House hurdle

The US National Security Agency (NSA) will be allowed to continue scooping up massive amounts of electronic communications, following a close vote in the House of Representatives.

A legislative challenge concluded yesterday with a 217-205 defeat to an amendment of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA), put forward by Republican Representative Justin Amash of Michigan, that would have scaled back the NSA’s data collection capabilities.

obamaflagusgovernment © spirit of america / Shutterstock.comRepresentative Ted Poe, a Texas Republican, argued the government had “gone too far in the name of security”. “Rein in government invasion, no more dragnet operations, get a specific warrant based on probable cause or stay out of our lives,” Poe said, according to Reuters.

Support for NSA surveillance

But backers of the NSA snooping, as revealed by former contractor Edward Snowden, said the gathering of metadata was vital for keeping Americans safe.

“If you want to search for a needle in a haystack, you have to have the haystack. This (amendment) takes a leaf-blower and blows away they entire haystack. You will not have this program if this amendment passes,” said Republican representative Tom Cotton.

Earlier in the day, director of national intelligence James Clapper warned about “dismantling an important intelligence tool”.

“I remain hopeful that as we continue to discuss foreign intelligence activities in Congress and across the nation, we will make decisions that address the concerns of the public while preserving our ability to protect our nation,” he added.

Representatives Mike Rogers and Dutch Ruppersberger also said the PRISM tool and other data collection projects were necessary, warning against “premature reactions”.

“The collection tool has been integral in preventing multiple terrorist attacks, including a plot to attack on the New York Stock Exchange in 2009.  If enacted, this amendment would have an immediate – and potentially fatal – operational impact, and make America more vulnerable to terrorist attacks,” they said in a joint statement.

Meanwhile, Snowden remains in Moscow Airport, even though reports falsely claimed he had been given the option of travelling elsewhere in Russia.

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