Rep. Darrell Issa, R-Calif., announced Tuesday he supports legislation to rein in the National Security Agency's phone and Internet surveillance programs.
Issa voted July 24 against an amendment by Rep. Justin Amash, R-Mich., that would have prohibited the NSA from collecting the phone records of all Americans. The amendment failed by just 12 votes, 217 to 205, in the House. Twelve members did not vote.
In a letter to House Majority Leader Eric Cantor, House Oversight and Government Reform Committee Chairman Issa said recent news reports changed his mind about the NSA, and he asked for consideration of legislation that goes even further than Amash's amendment.
"Now that it has been publicly acknowledged that the communications of Americans were included in the NSA's data collection program, likely violating their Fourth Amendment rights, Congress must respond in a manner that both increases the transparency of the agency's programs and reinforces the constitutional protections of our citizens," Issa wrote in the letter, published by Politico.
The Obama administration sought and received permission from the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court in 2011 to search American citizens' emails and other intercepted Internet communications without a warrant. The FISA court ruling, reported Saturday by The Washington Post, sharply contrasted with previous claims by the Obama administration that U.S. citizens were not targeted by the NSA Internet surveillance programs.
"Government actions that violate the Constitution cannot be tolerated and Congress must act to ensure the NSA and the rest of the intelligence community permanently cease such acts and hold the appropriate individuals accountable," Issa wrote. "I respectfully ask that you move legislation to the floor, including the language of the Amash Amendment."
Amash spokesman Will Adams praised Issa's about-face.
"We're very pleased that Chairman Issa supports our amendment," Adams told U.S. News. "When he speaks on tech issues, what he says carries a lot of weight."
Before being elected to Congress in 2000, Issa served as chairman of the Consumer Electronics Association. He's one of the wealthiest member of Congress, earning millions from a business that sold vehicle anti-theft devices.
"There's plenty of evidence to believe that if the amendment was brought up for a vote today it would pass," Adams said. "The atmosphere has changed in Congress [and the vote] wouldn't be a nail-biter."
The language of Issa's letter, Adams noted, "suggests he wants to look at this issue more broadly, and we agree."
Amash is looking for opportunities to introduce NSA-restraining amendments later this year or in early 2014. One of the most promising opportunities, Adams said, is the Intelligence Authorization Act, for which a vote has yet to be scheduled. Other targets, such as a bill funding Department of Justice operations, are also being considered.
"We're going to keep our eyes open," Adams said. "If the Amash amendment does get taken up by the House and it does pass this fall, it will put pressure on the committees to start passing comprehensive reforms."