Pennsylvania’s delegation in the U.S. House of Representatives split almost evenly last week when it came time to vote on an amendment that would have cut off funding for the National Security Agency program that collects data on the phone calls Americans make.
Eight Pennsylvania members voted for the measure, and nine voted against. Overall, the measure was defeated, 205-217, in a vote that was clearly a wakeup call to the White House and Senate and House leaders that big changes in national security programs are coming fast.
Only one Pennsylvania Democrat, Allyson Schwartz, voted against the amendment. She said the measure “did not achieve the critical balance between national security and civil liberties.”
A neighboring lawmaker, Republican Mike Fitzpatrick from Bucks County, saw things differently and voted to cut off the program’s funding. “Tonight, I stand on the side of personal liberty,” he said.
We applaud both Schwartz and Fitzpatrick for voting their consciences on such a key issue.
The vote in Washington and the unease around the country about the mass collection of phone data — though not the content of the phone calls themselves — was unleashed when Edward Snowden, an NSA contractor, released secret information about mass surveillance programs. He remains holed up in a Moscow airport, a man currently without a country or a passport.
Some call him a whistleblower and others say he is a traitor. But what is certain is that his illegal act has prompted an important conversation in this country about privacy rights and the balance between national security and personal liberty.
Look for the House and Senate Intelligence Committees and the Senate Judiciary Committee to rewrite the rules on government’s surveillance.
More oversight is coming, and that’s a good thing for our country. The balance between personal liberty and national security is delicate, and like any fine instrument, requires constant fine-tuning. ••