By Jim Michaels, USA TODAY
- The Obama administration and National Security Agency narrowly
averted an embarrassing setback Wednesday as the House defeated an
attempt to block the collection of massive volumes of telephone records
on domestic calls.
By a 217-205 vote, the House defeated a
proposal by Rep. Justin Amash, R-Mich., that would have limited the
collection of so-called metadata by the NSA.
The proposal was
among the first significant challenges to a program that has drawn
scrutiny after a former NSA contract employee leaked details of it.
unsuccessful, Amash drew together a diverse coalition of libertarian
Republicans, law-and-order conservatives and liberals, who all said they
were troubled by the NSA's collection of data on people who were not
under criminal investigation.
The amendment, which was attached to
a defense spending bill, would have required the government to show any
collection of data is related to a specific individual.
of the amendment said it would deal a death blow to a critical
intelligence program that has helped disrupt planned terrorist attacks.
by Edward Snowden, the NSA contract employee, have brought fresh
scrutiny to the collection of so-called metadata. The data includes
phone numbers and the duration of the calls, but not the substance of
Amash said his proposal would only stop the government
from sweeping up data indiscriminately but would not interfere with the
pursuit of legitimate terrorism investigations.
His proposal drew
immediate criticism from the Obama administration and key lawmakers.
"This blunt approach is not the product of an informed, open, or
deliberative process," White House spokesman Jay Carney said in a
"It ends the program," said Rep. Tom Cotton, an Arkansas Republican and former paratrooper in Iraq. "It blows it up."
Dianne Feinstein,D-Calif., chairman of the Senate Intelligence
Committee and Mike Rogers, chairman of the House Intelligence Committee,
opposed the amendment.
Will Adams, an aide to Amash, said the
breadth of the opposition from political leaders is proof that the
amendment would be effective in stopping the indiscriminate collection
"People with a stake in the program have come out with guns blazing against it," he said.
say the NSA programs violate privacy and go beyond what was intended by
the Patriot Act, which was designed to expand the ability of the
government to investigate and prosecute terrorism cases.
Keith Alexander, head of the NSA, has said the collection of data has
helped disrupt dozens of terrorist plots. Investigators are not allowed
to comb through the data, but can use it when they have identified a
foreign suspect through other intelligence collection.
allows investigators to then detect networks the suspect may have been
tied into, which could lead to other suspects and the uncovering of
"The court restricts what we can do with that data,"
Alexander said in a recent speech. "We have to show some reasonable,
articulable suspicion that the phone number that we're going to look at
is associated with al-Qaeda or another terrorist group."