The amendment [pdf] basically defunds the NSA's dragnet collection of every bit of metadata on all phone records as well as other bulk records that have not yet been revealed. The amendment still would allow the NSA to collect information under the original intent—and understanding—of the law, that is information actually related to actual investigations.
The NSA and its supporters are, of course, fighting back. They've introduced a second amendment intended to peel support away from the Amash amendment. What this second amendment, from Rep. Richard Nugent (R-FL), does is to pretend that it will withhold funding for bulk collection, but it actually just reiterates what's already in the law, and it just reiterates the status quo.
Meanwhile, NSA chief Keith Alexander is lobbying House members in a
"top secret," "emergency" meeting to fight the Amash amendment.
NSA head Gen. Keith Alexander scheduled a last-minute, members-only briefing in response to the amendment, according to an invitation distributed to members of Congress this morning and forwarded to HuffPost. "In advance of anticipated action on amendments to the DoD Appropriations bill, Ranking Member C.A. Dutch Ruppersberger of the House Intelligence Committee invites your Member to attend a question and answer session with General Keith B. Alexander of the National Security Agency," reads the invitation.So Alexander is personally lobbying, and making the meeting "top secret," to make all these members of Congress—whose law his agency has been shamelessly flouting—feel invested in the system and feel important. Despite the panic Alexander is trying to foment in the House, the Amash amendment would not curtail the NSA's ability to conduct surveillance within the bounds of existing law. Instead, it would try to force the agency to adhere to the law as it stands today.
The invitation warned members that they could not share what they learned with their constituents or others. "The briefing will be held at the Top Secret/SCI leveland will be strictly Members-Only," reads the invite.
This is the first vote, potentially as soon as Wednesday, the Congress is taking on the NSA's dragnet surveillance program. It's the first chance for members of Congress to tell the NSA to abide by existing law.