Last month, Congressman Justin Amash sounded the alarm on controversial spying language that was snuck into a 2,009-page omnibus bill. The massive budget legislation was, as is typical in Washington, haphazardly passed to avoid an end-of-year government shutdown.
This week, Amash introduced legislation to repeal these anti-privacy provisions.
When the omnibus passed, Amash said he didn’t think most of his colleagues realized a pre-existing bill called the Cyber Information Sharing Act (CISA) was folded into its pages. Amash describes CISA as “the worst anti-privacy law since the USA PATRIOT Act.”
As Amash told Rare in an exclusive interview, “Everyone understands why appropriations were rushed into an omnibus before the December fiscal deadline,” referring to the looming government shutdown. He added, “There’s no legitimate justification for sneaking a massive cyber surveillance measure into that omnibus.”
This is why, as Rare reported in December, Amash took time over Congress’ winter recess to draw attention to CISA and the fact that it was passed in a sneaky manner.
A statement from Amash’s office introducing his new bill describes CISA as, “[Allowing] unconstitutional, warrantless surveillance on law-abiding Americans.” It explains, “The law grants immunity from liability to companies that share employees’ or users’ private information with the government or other companies, as long as they do so under the guise of cybersecurity.”
Further: “It places no limits on the type of information that can be shared, which could include individuals’ personal online communications, and it allows the government to use the information it receives for purposes unrelated to cybersecurity, including the investigation and prosecution of unrelated crimes.”
Amash’s bill is bipartisan, and is co-sponsored by Congressman John Conyers (D-Mich.), Congresswoman Zoe Lofgren (D-Calif.), Congressman Thomas Massie (R-Ky.), Congressman Ted Poe (R-Texas), and Congressman Jared Polis (D-Colo.).
Rare asked Amash if he believes his legislation will get a fair hearing under the new Republican leadership of Speaker Paul Ryan. In the past, Amash and several of his “rebellious” colleagues clashed with former speaker John Boehner, and lost their committee assignments as a result. Amash was kicked off of the House Budget Committee.
“Speaker Ryan committed himself to a fair, open process, and I hope he’ll recognize he made a mistake here,” said Amash. “He can show a real difference from Speaker Boehner by bringing my repeal bill to the floor so we can have the necessary debate.”
Amash, a member of the House Freedom Caucus, supported Paul Ryan for speaker because Ryan promised Amash and other members that he would give a greater voice to the conservatives who were shut out of the governing process under Boehner. At the time of Boehner’s resignation, House conservatives lobbied for a speaker who would democratize legislative operations. The Republican Party eventually coalesced around Ryan.
Amash said he hopes to see Ryan keep the promises he made to secure his speakership. Bringing a bipartisan bill to the floor aimed at exposing the nefarious passage of CISA would certainly be a good start.