The motion is part of a lawsuit the ACLU filed back in June following the disclosures published in the The Guardian newspaper from whistleblower Edward Snowden.
An amendment that would have prevented the government from funding data collection from anyone besides those "subject to an investigation" — proposed by Michigan Republican Congressman Jason Amash — was narrowly defeated last month. But Polk County-area Republican Congressman Dennis Ross has hopes that his "Relevancy Act" will get a vote this fall after House members return from their summer break.
"When I looked at the business records exemption of the Patriot Act, it essentially says that whatever is being sought by application for discovery, meaning metadata records, things of that nature, there has to be some relevancy between that and an ongoing terrorism investigation," Ross explained to CL earlier this week.
"I believe the FISA court has gone too far because why is it that my mother-in-law, who's 74 years old, has a cellphone and now her metadata is relevant to an ongoing terrorist investigation? Our bill would have required that they have to specifically say persons or groups of persons as to why in the application there's a relevancy between that sought and a terrorist investigation. We have to be careful that we protect our liberties, and I think that we've done a great job of maintaining our national security, but at what expense are we starting to do that? So I think we need to have the debate on NSA and FISA courts to make sure ... they're not going so far as to not give due process to innocent civilians."
Ross, whose 15th Congressional District now includes a much bigger portion of Hillsborough County than it did before reapportionment last year, was one of only two House members from the Tampa Bay area congressional delegation who supported tthe Amash amendment (the other was Sarasota's Vern Buchanan).
As we reported earlier this month, Tampa-area Democrat Kathy Castor has expressed similar concerns about the revelations from Snowden regarding NSA surveillance, but voted against the Amash amendment, saying it wasn't the proper vehicle to demonstrate those concerns (reports circulated at that time that House Speaker Nancy Pelosi lobbied several dozen members of her caucus not to challenge President Obama on that vote).
Ross cites the recent negative comments of NSA surveillance by Wisconsin's James Sensenbrenner as an indication of how intrusive government searches of innocent Americans have gone bad since 9/11. Sensenbrenner, a cantankerous House Republican who was one of the House managers during the impeachment of Bill Clinton, has been outspoken about Section 215 of the Patriot Act, which allows investigators to seek business records or, "any tangible things as long as they are relevant to a counter terror investigation."
Sensenbrenner recently told NPR that "I don't think we put enough civil liberty safeguards in it," regarding Section 215.
"We need to bring up the debate on this, we need to make sure we are not getting the government involved in every communication that takes place in this country. Privacy still has a great concern to me," Ross said.