Amash’s letter targets ending bulk call surveillance

Melissa Nann Burke
Detroit News Washington Bureau

Washington — Fifty-nine House members signed a letter by Rep. Justin Amash, R-Grand Rapids, to Senate leaders Wednesday, saying a pending bill on the government’s bulk collection of phone records fails to “appropriately reform surveillance practices or address privacy concerns.”

The USA Freedom Act would phase out the National Security Agency’s bulk collection of phone records, replacing it with a system to search the data held by telephone companies on a case-by-case basis.

“While we recognize the government’s legitimate interests in certain surveillance activities intended to protect the United States, these intrusions must be carefully limited and overseen in order to avoid encroaching upon the freedoms they are intended to preserve,” wrote Amash and Rep. John Lewis, D-Georgia.

Last week, Amash explained on Facebook his vote against the USA Freedom Act in the House. He argued that, while the bill ends the phone “dragnet” by the NSA, instead phone companies themselves would hold, search and analyze data at the request of the government, “which is worse in many ways given the broader set of data the companies hold.”

Wednesday’s letter was addressed to Senate leaders including Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, who opposes the bill.

Republicans are divided on the program, and its passage in the upper chamber is uncertain.

But Amash’s letter wasn’t signed by any of his eight GOP Michigan colleagues. Twenty-nine other Republicans endorsed the letter.

Nor was it signed by any of the delegation’s five Democrats, including Rep. John Conyers Jr., D-Detroit. But the letter was signed by other well-known liberal Democrats including Reps. Maxine Waters of California and Charlie Rangel of New York.