Did the NSA overreach? Lawmakers spar over data-collection program

MGN
Sunday, December 22, 2013 - 4:27pm

(CNN) -- Members of Congress are split on whether to rein in the National Security Agency's surveillance activities after intelligence leaks revealed the extent of the government's data-collection program.

A review of NSA surveillance practices ordered by the White House recommended changes to the program including greater judicial oversight and more public transparency in the collection of metadata. And a U.S. district judge said that the mass collection of phone records was probably unconstitutional.

The chairman of the House Intelligence Committee defended the NSA Sunday, underscoring that the review of the program found no wrongdoing by the agency.

"They found no violations, no unlawful activity, no scandal; none of that was found in this report," Rep. Mike Rogers, R-Michigan, said on ABC's "This Week," adding that the report opens a new debate over whether the data are held by the government or private companies.

Former Deputy CIA Director Michael Morell said the NSA was doing what it was instructed to do and the spying program should continue with the proposed reforms.

"There has not been a successful terrorist attack in the United States since 9/11. And there are a lot of reasons for that; there are a lot of organizations and lot of people who are responsible for that. The National Security Agency is one of those agencies," he said on CBS' "Face the Nation."

But Sen. Mark Udall, a senior Democrat on the Intelligence Committee, said it's time to end the bulk collection of data and pushed for the consideration of the reforms laid out by President Barack Obama's review panel.

"The argument for the status quo fell apart this week in Washington," he said, also appearing on ABC. "The NSA is overreached."

Udall conceded that while the report found no abuses, the potential to violate American citizens' privacy remains. The government, he said, should have to go to the courts to get public phone records and the records should be held by a third party.

Rogers and Udall agreed that former government contractor and NSA leaker Edward Snowden should return to the United States to face charges.

In an open letter to Brazil this week, Snowden offered to help investigate U.S. surveillance of Brazilian citizens.

Rep. Peter King, R-New York, reiterated his characterization of Snowden as a "defector and traitor," calling the NSA program "indispensable" to the safety of the United States.

But Sen. Patrick Leahy, a Democrat from Vermont and chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, said Snowden is "irrelevant" in the debate over the role of the NSA.

"The Founding Fathers would be astounded to see what the NSA and others are doing," he said, appearing with King on NBC's "Meet the Press."

Leahy's comments came as he announced Sunday that the President's NSA review group will testify before the Senate Judiciary Committee January 14 about their recommendations to overhaul the government's surveillance authority.

"The recommendations from the President's Review Group make clear that it is time to recalibrate our government's surveillance programs," Leahy said in a statement, after appearing on NBC. "Momentum is building for real reform."

Democratic Sen. Joe Manchin, told CNN on Sunday that he's open to the review board's recommendations but a balance must be found between protecting Americans' privacy while still maintaining the nation's security.

"We always heard as a child growing up and as we have different phases of our life that big brother is watching you. And now we found out that big brother is truly watching you."

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