House Mulls NSA Restrictions in Collecting Metadata

Gen AlexanderArmy Gen. Keith Alexander, head of the National Security Agency, has an astronomically higher batting average than Babe Ruth, Ted Williams, Stan “The Man” Musial and other baseball greats when it comes to getting what he wants from the secret watchdog court on intelligence.

The observation by Rep. Hakeem Jeffries, D-N.Y. reflected the general mood of a loose coalition of lawmakers in the House who used the opening of debate Tuesday on the defense appropriations bill to consider proposals to rein in the NSA’s ability to scoop up metadata.

Jeffries and others on both sides of the aisle have expressed concerns about what they call the “rubber stamp” approval of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court, known as the FISA court after the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, for requests from the NSA and the FBI to monitor phone and Internet data.

At a House Judiciary Committee hearing last week, Jeffries told witnesses from the NSA and the office of retired Air Force Gen. James Clapper, the director of National Intelligence, that since 1979 the FISA court had received 33,949 applications for surveillance. Of that total, 490 were modified by the Court, and only 11 were rejected, Jeffries said.

“Your batting average is higher than 99 percent,” Jeffries said. Robert Litt, chief counsel to Clapper, seemed slightly annoyed with the baseball analogy to spycraft and counter-intelligence work. “We’re not exactly talking about baseball here,” Litt said.

To underline his point, Litt, used his own baseball analogy. He said that when the NSA makes a pitch to the FISA court, the judges will often tell the NSA to “throw the pitch a little higher” or wider to meet the guidelines of the law.

Deputy Attorney General James Cole tried another analogy to justify broad sweeps of phone and web data.

“If you’re looking for the needle in the haystack, you have to have the entire haystack,” Cole said.

The House renewed interest in the activities of the NSA and the FISA court in the uproar over the leaks from contractor Edward Snowden, now at a Moscow airport on the run from an espionage warrant, on the massive amounts of data collected by the NSA.

An amendment to the defense appropriations bill offered by Rep. Justin Amash, R-Mich., would scrap the NSA’s authority to scoop up records under Section 215 of the Patriot Act on individuals who are not the specific targets of an investigation. A vote on the Amash amendment was expected later this week.

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Richard Sisk
Richard Sisk is a reporter for He can be reached at
  • hibeam

    Hey NSA. You don’t need all these super expensive programs to spy on Americans. I can point out for you where the enemy lives. In North Pakistan. You can use drones to eliminate and harass the bearded lunatics there. Happy to help you damn fools out.

    • blight_

      To Room 101 with you

    • Ben

      The problem occurs when we end up killing roughly the equivalent amount of innocent civilians in the process.

  • SJE

    OMG, I actually agree with Hibeam.

    • yogiberra111

      In that case you should seek professional help immediately!

      • SJE

        dialling now……..

        • hibeam

          Guys guys! Is this really necessary?

  • IknowIT

    My thoughts on this- first NSA has been doing this for a long time. Second, would anyone consent to the government having copies of their regular mail, or recordings of all their in-person conversations? I doubt it. So why the F is it okay for them to copy all electronic data- and I very much assume they get content not just meta data..

    • blight_

      What’s hilarious is that the USPS is complicit in the analog equivalent: taking pictures and presumably noting who sends physical mail to whom.

      What are the odds UPS and Fedex do the same?

  • Musson

    Stalin would sure have appreciated having this type of data collection. Hitler would have loved it.

    But, I kind of doubt if George Washington, John Adams or Thomas Jefferson would have approved.

  • Mark

    Meta data is bad, but nowhere near as bad as the actual recordings of all our phone calls. This is a direct violation to the constitution. This is one of the charges against the King of England covered in the Declaration of Independence.

    • Whoever

      ? There were no phones during the signing of the Declaration of Independence

      • Ben

        I hate comments like this.

        It’s the modern day equivalent.

        • blight_

          He’s a literalist. Back in the day, the worry would’ve been people opening your mail. Espionage infrastructure probably would’ve descended from Francis Walsingham; and from Richelieu on the other side of the pond.

          I think we assume that the ancients did not practice spycraft at our own peril. I’m sure George III had his own spy rings: The Culper ring did not invent everything on their own!

        • blight_
  • John moore

    And who will be spying on NSA to see if they really do follow the line?

    More and more sounds like the soviet block of old.


    All I’m sayin’ is that I am glad that buffoon Snowden wasn’t working at Area 51. THAT would have been way worse………

  • docingram

    who gives a poop about big brother monitoring our phone records. i hope they enjoy my conversations, the only people worried about someone are the ones that need someone listening.

  • oblatt1

    The irony is that a lot of the people in our military industrial complex would much rather be living in the old Soviet union. Just listen to our resident Lockheed shill lamenting that we we won the cold war.

  • Bob

    Only Americans would be afraid of the government spying on their porn viewing habits.

    • Rest Pal

      What are you talking about? The US government is filled with porn lovers, and doers.

    • ruger

      That is precisely why you should revisit “Learning the US Constitution 101”. The Rule of Law does not just apply to the governed; ya know? …and your comment is irrelevant

  • IknowIT

    And the Republicans vote in favor of KEEPING the program. What a bunch of clowns!. And the best part is that all they where debating was metadata- nothing as far as I know about actual data. Republicans, I’m OUT!!!

  • SFC Pappy

    Obama spying on everyone, US and foreign. CIA spying on NSA. IRS spying on CIA. Secret Service spying on IRS. DHS spying on Secret Service. People like Snowden spying on all of them. The Illuminati pulling puppet strings on all major world leaders. Little Johnny spying on his older sister in the bathroom. Kindergarten kids playing hide and seek. A bored 35 year old living in his mommies basement hacking federal computers. Obama looking under his bed every night, while backed up by SECDEF Service agents, for the boogie man. Granny spying on her neighbor and calling police every hour saying they are terrorists because the man had a bag of fertilizer and a haul truck in driveway. You spying on the people in the car next to you at a red light.

    What does all this listed BS mean? Mass paranoia by EVERYONE just because they are scared of anyone besides themselves. Or their lives are so boring and repetitive they need something to add excitement or make them feel superior.

    Lastly. Spy on me you better have a warrant or be on your or public property. But be prepared. I could Moon you, flip you off or both. I am old, retired and stopped worrying about offending someone when an Iraqi mortar stomped my ass. After 27 years of government service and political correctness my kind sensitivity level went out the door, never to return.

    Mass paranoia will continue to start fights and wars. Just that simple. So let’s all follow Obama’s main presidential agenda. When the crap hits the fan go take a vacation. It will be OK when you get back then you can blame it on someone else.

    • IknowIT

      It’s just that Bush started Patriot Act, and Carnivore, the first mass data collection system started (as far as we know) under Bush, and no the repubs cant even vote to block meta data collection. So, it’s not a party line thing..

      • XYZ

        I don’t know that he said it was a party line thing.

        Amen to you, SFC Pappy. Sorry you got injured, sir, but I’m glad people like you exist and agree with you 99%.

  • Dfens

    The NSA needs to continue to compile unconstitutional data on American citizens, otherwise how would the defense contractors “who work for them” compile the dirt they need to keep “our” politicians voting for their crap.

  • SJE

    I am concerned about mission creep. For example, the UK government just passed a law that you need to register with the government to be allowed to view porn over the internet. Leave aside the issue of the government controlling your viewing habits, you have the issue of what is, and is not, “porn.” Is an article on breast cancer?

  • RWB123

    I have a suggestion. Let’s just all go bury our heads in the sand and ignore the boogey man until he goes away.

    That worked so well on 9/11.

  • Mark

    Why are we allowing our employees to spy on us (the people) openly or not? Our’s is a government by the people (us) and for the people (us again).

  • oliski
  • oliski
  • ruthhtjf
  • ruthhtjf
  • ruth
  • anengineer

    Everyone says ‘Oh My God, the NSA is recording all my conversations’.

    But read the leaked documents and it never says that. All they are collecting is the same stuff that you see on yout monthly billing statement from the phone company — you made a call at thus-and-such time to phone number # for xx minutes. And similar for email.

    Makes a lot of sense. You find someone trying to set up a terrorist attack, check the database and see who he talks to, then see who else talks to them. Then you can go for court orders to actually see what they are talking about.

    • blight_

      Zawahiri is now friends with Bin Laden
      Bin Laden is now friends with Zarqawi

  • tyo

    No one is forcing you to use a smart phone of any electronic device for that matter

    • blight_

      “NSA routinely intercepts pigeons”