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Secret Hearing on Domestic Spying Postponed

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On Tuesday we asked you to make calls to urge Senators to postpone making changes to the laws governing domestic surveillance and other National Security Agency (NSA) activities. The Senate Intelligence Committee had announced plans to consider a bill sponsored by Chairman Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) and Vice Chairman Saxby Chambliss (R-Ga.) in a hearing that was scheduled for today. That mark-up was going to be conducted behind closed doors on legislation that hasn’t been released to the public. We said wait, make the bill public, and carefully consider proposals to better balance security and liberty.

Now, thankfully, the hearing has been postponed. There could be many reasons for the delay, from the government shutdown to the number of phone calls you placed, but regardless of the reason, we are pleased with the delay. It gives us more time to draw attention to the fact that the public has a right to know how the law would affect them.

In its coverage of the issue, The Hill blog mentioned our coalition’s letter urging that the Feinstein-Chambliss bill be made public. It also stated, “Sens. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) and Mark Udall (D-Colo.), vocal civil liberties advocates, had been expected to push more aggressive privacy protection proposals as amendments to Feinstein's bill during the markup.” There is no doubt about that.

Senators Wyden and Udall have a comprehensive bill for more transparency, accountability, and protections for privacy and civil liberties, the Intelligence Oversight and Surveillance Reform Act (S. 1551). Since both Senators sit on the Intelligence Committee, they at least ought to be allowed to offer all or parts of their bill as amendments to the Feinstein-Chambliss bill.

Senator Feinstein’s committee isn’t the only one reviewing NSA activities in the wake of the Edward Snowden whistleblowing disclosures. Yesterday, the Senate Judiciary Committee held an extremely interesting hearing with plenty of disagreement on these critical issues. As Politico reported, Chairman Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) pushed back hard on government claims that we need the program. Chairman Leahy is quoted as saying, “The government has not made its case that bulk collection of domestic phone records is an effective counterterrorism tool, especially in light of the intrusion on American privacy.”

He and Senator Mike Lee (R-Utah) have a bill to increase transparency in surveillance programs. Several of its provisions have been incorporated into the Wyden-Udall bill, but it also would align the sunset dates for the laws governing NSA activities (S. 1215).  This reform would ensure that both chambers of Congress will debate all of the relevant issues simultaneously.

Chairman Leahy continued to question the validity of the government’s claims, stating, “We have these overstatements of what’s going on. We’re talking about massive, massive, massive, massive collection and we’re told that we have to do that to protect us.” He also said, “We get more in the newspapers than we do in the classified briefings that you give us.”

On the other hand, Intelligence Committee Chairman and Member of the Judiciary Committee Feinstein defended the domestic spying program, accepted without question the government’s claims. Clearly, she needs to be more skeptical of these claims, and needs more convincing to better balance our security with liberty.

So, what can you do to help?

1. Please take a moment now to call the Senate Intelligence Committee Chairman Feinstein at 202-224-3841 and Vice Chairman Chambliss at 202-224-3521 and urge that they:

  • Carefully consider the findings of the Privacy and Civil Liberties Oversight Board (PCLOB).
  • Make the Feinstein-Chambliss NSA bill and the hearing to vote on it public.
  • Support the Wyden-Udall legislation and other amendments to strengthen NSA activity transparency and accountability and restore balance between security and liberty.

2. If one of your Senators is a member of the Intelligence Committee, please urge him or her to vote in favor of the Wyden-Udall legislation and other amendments to strengthen NSA transparency and accountability and restore balance between security and liberty.

3. Finally, feel free to thank Senators Wyden and Udall and Judiciary Chairman Leahy for their leadership in strengthening NSA transparency and accountability and restoring balance between security and liberty!

By: Christine Anderson
Public Policy Fellow, POGO

Christine Anderson At the time of publication Christine Anderson was a public policy fellow for the Project On Government Oversight.

By: Angela Canterbury
Director of Public Policy, POGO

angela canterbury Angela Canterbury is Director of Public Policy for the Project On Government Oversight.

Topics: Open Government

Related Content: Surveillance, Information Access, Intelligence

Authors: Angela Canterbury, Christine Anderson

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