Friday, July 26, 2013

Texas pols provided swing votes to keep NSA metadata collection going

The US House of Representatives this week voted down an amendment to eliminate funding for the National Security Agency's collection of metadata from domestic phone calls. Looking at the vote count, one can make the argument that Texas' congressional delegation, particularly Democrats, were the swing faction killing the amendment, allowing the NSA to continue its massive domestic surveillance program. The final vote was 205 Ayes and 217 Nays, with 12 not voting. So if seven members had voted differently, it would have passed.

As it happens, although 57% of Democrats in Congress supported the amendment (111-83),  two-thirds of Texas Democrats (eight members) voted to kill it, including several Grits thinks should know better: The no votes from that group were Sheila Jackson Lee, Eddie Bernice Johnson, Ruben Hinojosa, Joaquin Castro, Marc Veasey, Al Green, Henry Cuellar and Pete Gallego. If those eight votes go the other way, the amendment would have passed.

Texas' GOP delegation was similarly split, with 10 members voting for the amendment and 14 against. Republicans voting against the amendment were Michael McCaul, Sam Johnson, Jeb Hensarling, John Culberson, Kevin Brady, Mike Conaway, Kay Granger, Mac Thornberry, Bill Flores, Randy Neugbauer, Lamar Smith, Pete Olson, John  Carter, and Pete Sessions. Overall, 94 Republicans voted for the amendment, and 134 against it.

One wonders whether some of the Republicans on the list might find themselves defending this vote in next year's primary against Tea-Party oriented challengers. I doubt any of the Democrats will face electoral consequences for the vote, but they still should be ashamed of themselves. Texas pols aren't the only reason the amendment failed, but had they shown a little more backbone, they could have been the reason it succeeded.

Note: The original story misstated the Texas GOP vote count and has been corrected.


Anonymous said...

These Rhinos do not speak for me- They can kiss my vote goodbye-

Anonymous said...

You left out John Carter, he was a GOP no vote too.

An Attorney said...

I do not have trouble with the collection and storage of the metadata. The issue for me is the use of it. There should be a warrant requirement for looking at the data, as opposed to storing it locked up, with specific named individuals and or numbers in the warrant, and an allowance to see the first links from those persons or numbers, so that a subsequent warrant could be obtained if necessary.

I am more concerned that there is not an opposing attorney at the FISA court to force the investigators to produce justification for the warrants.

The data collection may be necessary to preserve it for a period to allow later appropriate looking with very specific warrants following a contested hearing.

Gritsforbreakfast said...

@ An Attorney, I agree there should be opposing counsel at FISA hearings, but that's hardly the only concern. The Fourth Amendment protects the right against unreasonable searches and seizures. To me, "collection and storage" of my personal information is no different than its "seizure." Do you disagree? If so, why?

Anonymous said...

Kiss your vote goodbye? What they're doing Americans should have them hanging from an end of a rope.

An Attorney said...

In the time the 4th amendment was written, seizure of your papers resulted in you not having them. This situation is rather different. It is more akin to preventing the spoliation of evidence that may disappear due to the operational procedures of the telephone companies.

Preservation of the information may be necessary to allow a search for links that demonstrate connections to terrorist plots and allow intervention. That is why warrants identifying specific persons and phone numbers should be required at each step of any investigation, to ensure that there is not unnecessary snooping around in the records of those not directly linked to criminal activity. And the time frame for retaining the information of solely domestic persons should be limited.

Such information has been also been helpful in the past in locating missing persons, including victims of crime, and a central repository, for a transitory period of time, can have great value.

What we also need, imo, is an aggressive IG who checks up on the NSA staff and contractors to see that rogues, like Snowden, do not go off on unauthorized digging.

Gritsforbreakfast said...

Sorry, An Attorney, I must call BS. Spoliation refers to destruction or concealment of evidence regarding a specific suspect in an ongoing investigation. Collecting and storing EVERYONE's information because you and I COULD become criminals later does not qualify as acting to prevent spoliation.

In McNeely, SCOTUS said police couldn't draw blood preemptively at traffic stops because of blood alcohol dissipation, i.e., spoliation. And there, cops have probable cause, just not yet a warrant. Applying that legal posture to this case, do you really think the spoliation concept qualifies when there's no reason at all to think the target of information gathering committed a crime? There's a specificity requirement in the Fourth Amendment that this program (and your analysis) completely ignore.

Again, we agree on the IG and opposing counsel at FISA. But this notion that the government can vacuum up my personal data for no reason and store it as long as they want in case they want to accuse me of something later is a load of crap, bordering on the sort of activities one would expect from a totalitarian state.

Anonymous said...

This is a problem of "regulatory capture" that could be solved in part by term limits.

The 205 Ayes versus 217 Nays and 12 Not Voting was close, but only superficially. Even with a 2-minute electronic vote on the record, the members of the U.S. House of Representatives can watch the running tally of votes in real-time as they are cast, and each member can hold back to cast a "Aye" vote for the record, AS LONG AS his or her vote will not change his or her intended outcome of more Nays than Ayes. Such false voters are gaming the system to please their constituents, and they make sure their campaign donors and lobbyists know what they are doing and why.

One way to mitigate such gaming the voting process is to not reveal or publicize the real-time voting process of individual votes as they are cast, but rather only publicize the final tally.

A look at the campaign contributions to House Reps from the Defense/Intelligence Industry, such as provided in the current issue of Wired Magazine, reveals the hidden dynamic of voting. The Amash/Conyers Amendment to the DOD Appropriations Bill is just one more example of the fact that almost every member of U.S. Congress is bought and paid for.

Vox populi in a representative democracy is a myth perpetuated by high school civics textbooks and other so-called authoritative sources of societal conditioning.