House defeats proposal to limit NSA phone record collection

Opponents of the National Security Agency's collection of hundreds of millions of Americans' phone records insist they will press ahead with their challenge to the massive surveillance program after a narrow defeat in the House.

Furious lobbying and last-minute pleas ensured victory for the Obama administration as the House voted 217-205 on Wednesday to spare the NSA program.

With the high-stakes showdown vote looming, White House press secretary Jay Carney issued an unusual, nighttime statement on the eve of Wednesday's vote. The measure by Rep. Justin Amash, R-Mich., would cancel statutory authority for the secret program, a move that Carney contended would "hastily dismantle one of our intelligence community's counterterrorism tools." Amash said his measure tries to rein in the NSA's blanket authority.

According to the Washington Post, the proposal would have limited the collection of records "only when there was a connection to relevant ongoing investigations." The proposal would also require a summary of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Courtâ??s secret opinions to be made public.

In Central New York, Dan Maffei (D-24) and William Owens (D-21) voted in favor of the proposal to limit how the NSA collects telephone records of Americans. Richard Hanna (R-22) and Tom Reed (R-23) voted against the proposal.

In a statement, Hanna said, "I will continue to support Constitutionally-protected civil liberties and the right to privacy for all American citizens."

Unbowed, the libertarian-leaning conservatives, tea partyers and liberal Democrats who led the fight say they will try to undo a program they call an unconstitutional intrusion on civil liberties.

The showdown vote marked the first chance for lawmakers to take a stand on the secret surveillance program since former NSA systems analyst Edward Snowden leaked classified documents that spelled out the monumental scope of the government's activities.

Before Wednesday's vote, Gen. Keith Alexander, head of the NSA, made a last-minute trip to Capitol Hill on Tuesday to urge lawmakers to reject the measure in separate, closed-door sessions with Republicans and Democrats. Seven Republican committee chairmen issued a similar plea in a widely circulated letter to their colleagues.

(Information from the Associated Press was used in this report.)