Big Brother is still inside your phone.
And it has divided Ventura County’s two Democratic congresswomen.
In a narrow defeat, 217-205, Congress voted last week against an amendment to halt the National Security Administration’s (NSA) spying program, the program that for more than a decade has been secretly collecting phone-call metadata in the United States.
Rep. Lois Capps, Santa Barbara/Ventura, voted to stop the program, and Rep. Julia Brownley, Westlake Village, voted to keep it in place.
“I have worked vigorously to protect civil liberties over my entire career in public service,” Brownley wrote in an e-mail, “but we need to strike the right balance between these protections and our national security, and to do so we need a deliberative and thorough debate on this very complex issue. The Amash amendment allowed for neither.”
The amendment, proposed by Rep. Justin Amash, R-Mich., would have altered one of the more controversial parts of the Patriot Act that allows the government to collect the phone records of any American, under the auspices of national security. The dragnet phone metadata collection program was discovered last month after former NSA contractor Edward Snowden leaked the documents to the press.
Brownley’s statement echoes the Obama administration’s response to the amendment, saying that it was drafted in haste and without much discussion. But those who supported the amendment said the surveillance program was also created in haste, without any public discussion, in response to the Sept. 11 attacks and remained classified information until it was leaked to the public.
“I have been very concerned by reports of the NSA program collecting huge amounts of information on all Americans, even those under no suspicion of any wrongdoing,” Capps stated in an e-mail. “I voted to put a halt to this because it would seem to me to be an extreme violation of our constitutional rights to privacy.”
Following the vote, Wired magazine published an analysis by MapLight, a Berkeley-based nonprofit, that showed that lawmakers who upheld the NSA’s surveillance program received twice as much campaign financing from the defense and intelligence industry as those who voted for the amendment. The analysis covered a two-year period ending Dec. 31, 2012. Those who voted for the program averaged $41,635 from the pot, whereas House members who voted to repeal it averaged $18,765, Wired reported.
House Armed Services Committee Chairman Rep. Howard McKeon, R-Simi Valley, who voted for continued surveillance, received $526,600, leading the House in defense industry contributions.
According to the analysis, Capps received $17,400. Brownley, who first took office in 2013, received no defense contributions.
The Ventura County Democratic Party did not take a formal stance on the amendment, said David Atkins, chairman of the Ventura County Democratic Central Committee.
“The fact that Ventura County’s two Democratic members of Congress voted differently on this bill is representative of a healthy debate within our party on the balance between national security and civil liberties, and how we wrestle with these issues in an era of constantly evolving technological capabilities.”
On July 26, Capps, Brownley and other Democrats who voted for and against the amendment signed a letter to President Obama about working with Congress “to examine the operations of the NSA and consider amendments to existing law that strengthen the balance between our national security and Americans’ civil liberties.”
The letter can be found here: www.democraticleader.gov/Pelosi_Letter_to_Obama_on_NSAF