Representatives Justin Amash and Michele Bachmann butted heads at a meeting of House conservatives held today in conjunction with the Heritage Foundation. The conflict du jour: how to vote on Amash’s proposed amendment that would curtail the powers granted to the NSA in Section 215 of the Patriot Act. The only member of the panel to oppose the amendment — the group included Representatives Raul Labrador, Steve Scalise, Tim Huelskamp, David Schweikert, and other conservatives — was Bachmann, who contended that the amendment isn’t necessary to protect constitutional rights and would harm national security.
“Individuals do not own the records, the records belong to the company,” she said. “The records are in their possession, they belong to the phone companies, they’re not the individual’s. So there’s no Fourth Amendment expectation of privacy or right to the business-record exception.”
She went on to argue that FISA Sec. 702 applies to the collection of intelligence about foreigners on foreign soil, who don’t have constitutional rights.
“If we take this program and remove from the United States the distinct advantage that we have versus any other country,” she argued, ”it will be those who are seeking to achieve the goals of Islamic jihad who will benefit by putting the United States at risk, and it will be the United States which will be at risk.”
“I believe that we need to win the War on Terror,” she continued. “We need to defeat the goals and aims of Islamic jihad, and for that reason I will be voting no on the Amash amendment.”
Amash responded that his amendment doesn’t affect Section 702, explaining that advocates of the NSA’s domestic program often praise the advantages Section 702 provides in fighting terror, despite the fact that his amendment won’t affect it. Section 215, however, allows the widespread collection of Americans’ phone records, he continued, and that’s what his amendment would prevent.
“All you have to do is go home to your constituents and ask them whether they think they have a reasonable expectation of privacy in their phone records or any of their other records that are stored by any third party, and they will tell you yes,” he said.
“Under the legal reasoning that the intelligence community and others in the government are putting forward, none of your records are private, nothing, not even your data,” he continued. If Americans don’t have a reasonable expectation of privacy for information stored by third parties, he contended, then “you might as well throw the Fourth Amendment out the window.”
Bachmann responded that the records belong to the phone companies and other third parties that possess them, but Amash didn’t buy it.
“That’s like saying our e-mails are the property of Google,” responded Amash. “We have a problem if that’s going to be our interpretation of the Fourth Amendment.”