Amash leads challenge to NSA surveillance with LIBERT-E act

The LIBERT-E Act could break the trend towards heightened government surveillance and restore liberties which have been infringed. Photo: Associated Press

WASHINGTON, June 18, 2013 — Rep. Justin Amash is determined to bring an end to government surveillance without due process of law.

The Michigan Republican has sometimes had to walk a lonely road in the House of Representatives, excluded from prime appointments and treated with some hostility for challenging his party’s leadership. Yet with his latest bill he seems to have struck a chord as he has stepped forward to take the lead on bipartisan opposition to overly intrusive NSA surveillance efforts.

SEE RELATED: NSA contractor Snowden: Patriot, traitor, or just self-serving?

Amash is the Republican sponsor of the new LIBERT-E Act (HR2399) which is designed to limit the ability of government agencies to collect information on United States citizens who are not the subject of an active investigation.  It limits powers granted in the USA PATRIOT Act and FISA and requires that information from investigations under those acts be made available to Congress and the public.

The bill is co-sponsored by Democrat John Conyers, also of Michigan, and has already attracted 32 co-sponsors in its first 24 hours. Those co-sponsors represent both political parties fairly evenly and include a lot of notable figures like recently reelected Representative Mark Sanford, R-S.C., and anti-establishment leaders like Paul Broun, R-Ga., and Walter Jones, R-N.C., as well as outspoken newcomers like Thomas Massie, R-Ky., and Ted Yoho, R-Fla.

In announcing the bill, Amash expressed concerns which are now widely held by the public, writing:

“We accept that free countries must engage in secret operations from time to time to protect their citizens. Free countries must not, however, operate under secret laws. Secret court opinions obscure the law. They prevent public debate on critical policy issues and they stop Congress from fulfilling its duty to enact sound laws and fix broken ones.”

SEE RELATED: Snowden: Cheney calling me traitor is ‘highest honor’ for an American

It is a sign of how pervasive and substantial the concerns with surveillance overreach are that support for this bill has gathered so quickly and in large numbers.  Clearly these representatives see a lot of upside to opposing the NSA and a chance to be seen as heroes by concerned voters in their districts.

A few of them see obvious and immediate career benefits.  Senator Lindsey Graham has been a big defender of the NSA, and Mark Sanford’s political clout in his home state is enhanced by going against its unpopular senior senator. Similarly Paul Broun is a likely primary challenger to Senator Saxby Chambliss, R-Ga., who has also been a defender of the expansion of the security state.

The list of sponsors is also interesting because it includes some of the most left-leaning elements of the Democratic Party in Congress, including many members of the left-wing Progressive Caucus, but also some of the most conservative Republicans who are endorsed by the Republican Liberty Caucus. The far right and the far left have a common interest in civil liberties which sets them apart from the leadership elements of both parties and gives them some common ground. This may signal the beginning of a significant political realignment on some important issues.

One of the strongest statements explaining the need for this legislation came from Rep. Paul Gosar of Arizona who wrote:

SEE RELATED: PRISM and the NSA raise larger questions about the War on Terror

“I am not willing to trade our Fourth Amendment protections for the pretense of security. I cannot and will not continue policies that leave the constitutional rights of Americans under a loose and broad interpretation that exceeds anything Congress intended in the Patriot Act or FISA. I am proud to co-sponsor this bill as it allows the federal government to provide for our common defense without trampling on our constitutional rights.”

Whether committee chairs and other members of the House leadership will allow the LIBERT-E Act to make any progress remains to be seen. With bipartisan efforts from hundreds of groups like the Electronic Frontier Foundation, the American Civil Liberties Union and the Republican Liberty Caucus urging constituents to demand support from their representatives, and ongoing outcry about the NSA in the media, it may have a real chance to become the first successful effort to stop the expansion of government surveillance power since 9/11.

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Dave Nalle

Dave Nalle has been writing political analysis since the 1980s for newspapers, magazines and now online journals. He is currently Execitive Director of the Center for Foreign Policy Priorities, is on the board of the Coalition to Reduce Spending, and served four years as National Chairman of the Republican Liberty Caucus.

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