The House of Representatives voted 217-205 to defeat an amendment to the defense appropriations bill that would have limited the National Security Agency's ability to collect electronic information, including phone call records. (Agencies)
Republican Representative Tom Cotton, who endorsed the NSA program, described the "metadata" being collected as essentially a five-column spreadsheet containing the number called, the number of the caller, the date, the time and the duration of call.
"This program has stopped dozens of terrorist attacks," Cotton said. "That means it has saved untold American lives. This amendment does not limit the program, it does not modify it, it does not constrain the program, it ends the program. It blows it up."
Cotton, a former Army captain who served in Iraq and Afghanistan, said a comprehensive set of phone call records was needed in order for the program to work.
"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."
But Amash, a conservative Republican, and other supporters of the amendment said the fundamental issue was whether US government had the right to collect and retain the personal communications data of American citizens.
"Government's gone too far in the name of security," said Representative Ted Poe, a Texas Republican. "Rein in government invasion, no more dragnet operations, get a specific warrant based on probable cause or stay out of our lives."
Representative Joe Barton, another Texas Republican, said the issue was not whether the NSA was sincere or careful in collecting data for use in anti-terrorism operations.
"It is (about) whether they have the right to collect the data in the first place on every phone call on every American every day," he said, noting that the law only allowed collection of relevant data. "In the NSA's interpretation of that, relevant is all data, all the time. That's simply wrong."
The House of Representatives voted 217-205 to defeat an amendment to the defense appropriations bill that would have limited the National Security Agency's ability to collect electronic information, including phone call records.