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N.H.’s Kuster, Shea-Porter split over anti-NSA data-gathering measure

New Hampshire’s two Democratic congresswomen split this week over a measure aimed at ending the National Security Agency’s wide-ranging collection of electronic data, including telephone records.

The U.S. House on Wednesday narrowly rejected the amendment, offered by Michigan Republican Rep. Justin Amash, on a 217-205 vote. The proposal was opposed by leaders of both parties, including President Obama and Speaker John Boehner, but won support from a coalition of lawmakers that included liberal Democrats and libertarian Republicans.

U.S. Rep. Annie Kuster voted against the amendment, while U.S. Rep. Carol Shea-Porter voted for it. A majority of Democrats supported it, 111-83, while most Republicans opposed it, 134-94.

“As we have all seen in the last few months, government intelligence activities are in dire need of more transparency,” Shea-Porter said yesterday in a statement. “I voted for this amendment because it would have helped keep our government accountable to the people and still allows for the collection of necessary information.”

But Kuster said she thought the measure was too broad.

“I strongly believe we can and must protect both our national security and our constitutionally protected right to privacy, and I am committed to conducting rigorous oversight of our country’s intelligence operations. . . . At the same time, I was concerned the Amash amendment was overly broad and could have jeopardized the safety and security of Americans,” she said in a statement.

The vote came nearly two months after the details of secret NSA surveillance programs were made public by Edward Snowden, a former contractor for U.S. intelligence agencies. Snowden, who faces federal espionage charges, is now in Russia and seeking asylum there.

His disclosures reignited the public debate over privacy, national security and the U.S. government’s intelligence-gathering efforts, which ballooned following the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks. Amash’s amendment would have, among other things, revoked the Patriot Act’s authorization of blanket data collection.

The White House opposed the proposal, with Press Secretary Jay Carney calling it a “blunt approach” that was “not the product of an informed, open or deliberative process.”

After the amendment was defeated Wednesday evening, the House passed the underlying legislation, a defense appropriations bill, on a 315-109 vote. Both Kuster and Shea-Porter supported it.

(Ben Leubsdorf can be reached at 369-3307 or or on Twitter @BenLeubsdorf.)

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