Most members of the New Jersey delegation in the US House of Representatives voted against a measure that would have limited surveillance of telephone calls by the National Security Agency. The House vote was 217-205 against an amendment limiting funding for the phone tracking program.
The split in the state delegation was 7-4, with one not voting.
Those New Jersey representatives supporting the amendment and voting against the Obama Administration’s position were Democrats Rush Holt and Bill Pascrell and Republicans Scott Garrett and Chris Smith. Opposed to the measure were Democrats Donald Payne, Albio Sires, and Rob Andrews and Republicans Rodney Frelinghuysen, Frank LoBiondo, Jon Runyan and Leonard Lance. Democrat Frank Pallone did not vote.
According to Roll Call, the amendment to limit funding for the tracking program was offered by Michigan Republican Rep. Justin Amash . He told the Capitol Hill publication, “We are here today for a very simple reason to defend the Fourth Amendment, to defend the privacy of each and every American.”
The Fourth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution reads: “The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.”
Although a majority–111–of House Democrats voted for the limit on surveillance, it was opposed by the party leadership as well as by the White House. Opponents contended the spying program prevented terrorist attacks.
The vote came just days after the New Jersey Supreme Court unanimously ruled that the state Constitution’s version of the Fourth Amendment prevents the use by law enforcement authorities of cell phone tracking data without a warrant. The state’s highest court noted cell phone users do not expect their devices to be used by the police. The court wrote:
“Using a cell phone to determine the location of its owner can be far more revealing than acquiring toll billing, bank, or Internet subscriber records. It is akin to using a tracking device and can function as a substitute for 24/7 surveillance without police having to confront the limits of their resources. It also involves a degree of intrusion that a reasonable person would not anticipate.
“Location information gleaned from a cell-phone provider can reveal not just where people go -– which doctors, religious services, and stores they visit –- but also the people and groups they choose to affiliate with and when they actually do so. That information cuts across a broad range of personal ties with family, friends, political groups, health care providers.
“Finally, cell-phone use has become an indispensable part of modern life. The hundreds of millions of wireless devices in use each day can often be found near their owners — at work, school, or home, and at events and gatherings of all types. And wherever those mobile devices may be, they continuously identify their location to nearby cell towers so long as they are not turned off.”
Although the NSA’s phone-tracking operations have been known for years–Holt warned against them in a House speech in 2008–the extent of the surveillance was revealed in documents leaked by former NSA consultant Edward Snowden.
Full Disclosure: Rep. Holt and Rep. Pallone are vying for the Democratic nomination to the US Senate. I consult for the Holt campaign.