House To Vote On Defunding NSA Phone Surveillance

The House is to vote Wednesday on whether to stop funding the National Security Agency's programs to collect data about Americans' phone calls. The proposal, an amendment to the half-trillion-dollar defense spending bill, is winning support both from liberal Democrats and libertarian Republicans.

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DAVID GREENE, HOST:

The U.S. House of Representatives is taking up the issue of domestic spying. Lawmakers are expected to vote today on an amendment that would reign in the National Security Agency program that collects the phone records of millions of Americans. This would be the first vote on the matter since the scope of the NSA program was made public in a series of leaks. As NPR's Tamara Keith reports, at issue is an amendment to the defense appropriations bill.

TAMARA KEITH, BYLINE: The amendment's primary author is Michigan Republican Justin Amash, who's politics could best be described as libertarian, but two of his co-authors are liberal Democrats.

REPRESENTATIVE JUSTIN AMASH: We disagree on a number of other issues, but we're happy to work together to make sure that our constitution's being followed.

KEITH: Amash believes the NSA program violates the Fourth Amendment and amounts to unlawful search and seizure.

AMASH: NSA and the government are collecting everyone's phone records, regardless of whether the person is under suspicion; no probable cause, nothing. It's just a blanket collection of everyone's phone records.

KEITH: His amendment to the defense spending bill would limit phone data collection to people who are actually under investigation. House Speaker John Boehner is against the amendment and in the past has spoken out in support of the NSA program. And the head of the agency even made a trip up to Capitol Hill to further explain the value of the program to members in a top secret question and answer session.

But groups who support the amendment are lobbying too. David Segal, executive director of Demand Progress, says tens of thousands of supporters have sent emails to their representatives. He says this vote marks the first since the nature of the program became clear to the public and members of Congress alike.

DAVID SEGAL: Even those people who voted for the Patriot Act can claim that they didn't understand that those powers were going to be used in this way, and so this is a great opportunity to actually call the question and for Americans to learn where their members of Congress stand on these programs.

KEITH: Last night the White House called on representatives to reject the amendment, saying, quote, "this blunt approach is not the product of an informed, open or deliberative process." Tamara Keith, NPR News.

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