Only two members of Virginia’s delegation in the U.S. House of Representatives voted against the Intelligence Authorization Act for fiscal year 2015, which includes a provision to expand the executive branch’s authority to spy on American citizens and to monitor our communications.
The two Virginia representatives who voted to protect citizens’ privacy were Dave Brat (R-VA7), the state’s newest Member of Congress, and Morgan Griffith (R-VA9, in photo).
The provision to expand communications surveillance authority was inserted by Senate Democrats and discovered at the eleventh hour through the due diligence of Representative Justin Amash (R-Mich.), who warned his colleagues about it in a letter circulated shortly before the bill came to a vote.
Amash posted his concerns on his Facebook page:
When I learned that the Intelligence Authorization Act for FY 2015 was being rushed to the floor for a vote—with little debate and only a voice vote expected (i.e., simply declared “passed” with almost nobody in the room)—I asked my legislative staff to quickly review the bill for unusual language. What they discovered is one of the most egregious sections of law I’ve encountered during my time as a representative: It grants the executive branch virtually unlimited access to the communications of every American.
In a “Dear Colleague” letter (also posted to Facebook), Amash wrote:
Last night, the Senate passed an amended version of the intelligence reauthorization bill with a new Sec. 309—one the House never has considered. 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.
Despite 100 negative votes in the House (45 Republicans, 55 Democrats), the amended bill, HR 4681, seems headed to the President’s desk, where a veto would be a surprise.