Congress Uses Power of Purse to Limit NSA

Lawmakers will have to take a stand on phone record data collection.

(Jim Watson/AFP via Getty Images)

Deputy Director of the National Security Agency John Inglis testifies before the House Judiciary Committee on Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C., during a full committee hearing on government data surveillance.

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Republicans in the House of Representatives are seizing the chance to stop the National Security Agency from spying on Americans by using the power of the purse - the $598 billion defense spending bill.

The House of Representatives is expected to begin debate on the bill Tuesday and hold a series of votes on 100 amendments, including two that could put key Obama Administration programs at the mercy of House lawmakers.

One amendment sponsored by Rep. Justin Amash, R-Mich., would defund the NSA's bulk phone metadata collection program.

[READ: NSA Rolls Out Two-Person Rule to Prevent Future Leaks]

"In order for funds to be used by the NSA, the court order would have to have a statement limiting the collection of records to [the] records that pertain to a person under investigation," Amash explained during a House Rules Committee meeting Monday.

Amash also introduced a similar piece of legislation, the LIBERT-E Act, earlier this month. The bill attracted a wide range of bipartisan support including Rep. John Conyers, D-Mich., along with 18 other Democratic cosponsors.

 

Internet freedom advocates have already mobilized and are coalescing around the amendment to stop the data collection. Taskforce, a grassroots organization made up of computer programmers and technology advocates, has built DefundTheNSA.com, which encourages Internet freedom supporters to lobby their lawmakers. It has attracted thousands of followers in just a matter of hours.

[BROWSE: Political Cartoons on the NSA Scandal]

"This is the best chance we are going to get to keep the NSA from collecting the mass volume of phone records," says Sina Khanifar, Taskforce's founder. "Support in Congress up until now has been pretty mixed and just getting a bill on the floor has been pretty difficult. In the short term, this is the best we are going to get and people will either have to vote for or against it, and people will have to make a statement of where they stand on this issue and make it clear to voters."

The amendment was a response to programs revealed in June by former NSA contractor Edward Snowden that showed the U.S. government was collecting large volumes of phone and internet records from U.S. citizens.

[ALSO: NSA Sued by Hodgepodge Coalition Over Phone Surveillance]

But the NSA amendment is not the only contentious topic to be debated on the House floor as part of the spending bill.

An amendment to limit the U.S.'s ability to intervene in Syria will also get a vote. House members have grown increasingly concerned that the White House's plans to arm Syrian rebels could entrench the U.S. in yet another overseas conflict or lead to weapons falling into the hands of terrorists. The amendment would require Congress to approve any plan to intervene in Syria that goes beyond the War Powers Act.

The House will also vote on another amendment to bar the U.S. from sending aid to Egyptian military forces as the country moves to establish a legitimate government after ousting president Mohamed Morsi.

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