Update & thoughts on the vote's published roll call after the break.
An amendment that would have ended the NSA's authority under the Patriot Act to vacuum up Americans' phone records was narrowly defeated in the House by a vote of 217 to 205. The vote, secured by the amendment's backers to the surprise of many, marked the first congressional attempt to limit NSA surveillance since Edward Snowden's revelations.
While the amendment's defeat will likely be billed as a loss for privacy rights advocates, it is actually a tremendous victory, and marks the first salvo against the NSA's mass surveillance amidst growing outrage over its secret spying on Americans.
It took an unprecedented, political full-court press to defeat the amendment, as both the White House and the NSA lobbied House members to vote it down in the days and hours leading up to today's vote.
The culmination of such efforts came yesterday, when NSA director General Keith Alexander met for four hours in secret, classified briefings with both Democrats and Republicans, trying to sway House members to vote against the "Amash Amendment," authored by Republican Justin Amash and supported by Democrat John Conyers.
Despite such intensive efforts, the vote's outcome was unpredictable up until House members cast their ballots this evening.
This unpredictability demonstrates the power Snowden's whistleblowing has had upon public opinion, and upon sentiments within Congress on the NSA's secret surveillance reach, particularly those on the judiciary committees.
And this public opinion will continue to inform Congress – Amash's amendment will stand as just the first legislative attempt to curtail the government's unchecked spying powers. Indeed, privacy rights and civil liberties advocates feel as though, for the first time since 9/11, they have the upper hand in their fight against government violations in the name of 'national security.'
As The Guardian reported yesterday, the ACLU plans to take up this fight in the courts:
Even if Amash's push to limit the NSA program fails, civil libertarian groups are preparing for a long battle, fueled by the belief that public opinion is finally tipping their way. On Thursday, a court in New York was due to hear preliminary legal arguments on a case brought by the ACLU that challenges the constitutionality of the NSA's mass collection of phone records.
It is the first court challenge since the Snowden revelations, and the ACLU believes it has a strong case because of the publication by the Guardian of a secret court order authorising the bulk collection of Verizon records, and because it is a Verizon customer.
Amash's amendment, which would have been attached to the annual Defense appropriations bill, may have been defeated. However, it's merely the first battle in a war which, for the first time in years, appears to be on a level playing field.
Without Snowden's whistleblowing, such would not be the case.
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