White House opposes amendment to curb NSA spying

The White House said the amendment will "hastily dismantle" counterterrorism tools

The White House is opposed to an amendment to a defense spending bill that would limit spending on mass surveillance by the National Security Agency.

The amendment proposed by Rep. Justin Amash, a Republican from Michigan, would limit spending only to orders by the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court that collect phone and other data only of a person who is the subject of an investigation.

Former NSA contractor, Edward Snowden, disclosed through newspaper reports in June that the NSA was collecting phone metadata from Verizon customers in the U.S. as part of its surveillance which was said to include data collected from Internet companies as well.

The authorization to the NSA to collect phone metadata in bulk was last week renewed by the FISC court. The Department of Justice has said that it has to retain the bulk data required by its counterterrorism tools, as it need not be retained by telecommunications service providers.

The administration of President Barack Obama said Tuesday that it opposes "the current effort in the House to hastily dismantle one of our Intelligence Community's counterterrorism tools." "This blunt approach is not the product of an informed, open, or deliberative process," it added.

In line with his promise in June to have a debate on the issues thrown up by the disclosures of NSA surveillance, Obama has taken several steps including his meeting with the Privacy and Civil Liberties Oversight Board, and disclosures by the office of the Director of National Intelligence, according to a statement by the White House press secretary.

The amendment proposed by Amash would limit the collection of telephone numbers dialed, telephone numbers of incoming calls, and the duration of calls to that of the person under investigation.

Google, Microsoft and other Internet companies have sought clearance from the secret FISC court to disclose aggregate numbers of requests for customer data under the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act and related rules. The companies were said to have provided to the NSA access in real-time to content on their servers under a NSA program called Prism, which the companies have denied.

Earlier this week, the Department of Justice asked the FISC court for an extension of the time to respond to Microsoft and Google's motions before the FISC court for disclosure of aggregate data on FISA requests, stating that they needed additional time to negotiate with the two companies.

The U.S. House of Representatives is expected to vote on the amendment on Wednesday. Rights groups like the Electronic Frontier Foundation have described the Amash amendment as an important step in curbing domestic surveillance by the NSA. The White House has urged the House "to reject the Amash Amendment, and instead move forward with an approach that appropriately takes into account the need for a reasoned review of what tools can best secure the nation."

John Ribeiro covers outsourcing and general technology breaking news from India for The IDG News Service. Follow John on Twitter at @Johnribeiro. John's e-mail address is john_ribeiro@idg.com

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