The terrorist attacks in Paris have vividly illustrated the importance of surveillance in monitoring and stopping terrorists, triggering a rethink about the possible reforms of the National Security Agency's top secret surveillance program, originally developed as a counterterrorism tool.
According to The Hill
, civil libertarians were hoping that an upcoming deadline to reauthorize the agency's powers could be an opportunity reduce its scope, but many are saying that the events in Paris reaffirm the value of the surveillance programs given that U.S. officials were aware of the suspects in advance of the attacks and shared that intelligence with the French authorities.
"I hope the effect of that is that people realize … the pendulum has swung way too far after [leaker Edward Snowden]," Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Bob Corker told reporters on Thursday, according to The Hill.
"Hopefully people realize that the NSA plays a very, very important role in keeping Americans safe, and my guess there will be less of a desire to hamstring them unnecessarily."
In the aftermath of the leaks by Snowden and ensuing international outrage, President Barack Obama announced a comprehensive overhaul
of the program and vowed to scale it back
, as civil liberties groups pressured lawmakers on Capitol Hill.
Congress came close to shutting down the bulk collection of metadata under the program but in November the measure failed to pass the Senate by two votes. Reformers had intended to move forward with a new effort this year in the run up to June 1 deadline when Congress will be tasked with reauthorizing the Patriot Act.
In light of the attacks, the momentum for efforts to rein in the program will struggle in a Republican Congress, while the tide of public opinion may boost support for tools, such as the NSA's program, to target terrorists.
"That metadata doesn't look all that scary this morning," former NSA head Michael Hayden said on MSNBC after the attack on Paris, according to The Hill.
"I wouldn't be surprised if French services picked up cellphones associated with the attack and asked Americans: 'Where have you seen these phones active globally?'"
The attack has provided a vivid example for those who have ardently defended the program.
"It reminds us of our need to have at our disposal multiple and effective intelligence tools that allow us to gather information that could prevent an attack," Florida GOP Sen. Marco Rubio told The Hill.
"It's a reminder that even as I'm speaking to you, there are capable individuals around the world, and potentially even here within the United States, who are plotting to carry out attacks to kill innocent Americans," he added.
"We have to have the tools at our disposal, to the extent possible, to identify these people and prevent those attacks from happening."
In an interview on Bloomberg
last week, General Keith Alexander, former NSA director, said the NSA program was the type of tool law enforcement and intelligence agencies need to protect people from terrorism both domestically and abroad, even if it does need to be re-examined.
"Law enforcement and the intelligence agencies are going to be expected to do more," Alexander said. "They have to have the tools, like the recent issues that the NSA went through."
He pointed out that the president's review of the NSA program found that the agency had been doing everything right.
"I felt that what we were doing was helping save lives. Lives here, lives in Europe, and lives around the world," he said. "We weren't doing this to spy on innocent people. We were doing this to protect people.
"When this gets really bad and I think it's going to get worse, people are going to demand that governments, law enforcement and intelligence agencies stop it. They can't do it without tools."
Others have said that the French attacks make the case for protecting America's surveillance capabilities.
"It highlights the importance of surveillance. And these guys fell through the cracks in France … there are too many targets to follow in France. But this is a reason why we have things like the NSA program," Rich Lowry, editor of the National Review, told "Meet the Press"
Nevertheless, there are those who still intend to press ahead with scaling back the scope of the NSA's surveillance program.
"We are still interested in trying to end the bulk collection of data," Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul told reporters last week, according to The Hill.
"I'm in favor of having an NSA. I'm in favor of having an agency that helps to protect us by looking at signals and information, trying to put that together."
He added, however, "I think the American people are not in favor of having all their phone data collected without a warrant."
Others say that the attacks, along with those on Canada's Parliament and the hostage situation in Sydney, should not be an excuse to stop NSA reform, The Hill reported.
"The terrible reality is we're seeing a proliferation of these one-off attacks in Canada, Australia, Paris," said California Democratic Rep. Adam Schiff, the top Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee, according to The Hill. "There are always going to be opportunities to make the argument that the conditions in the world just don't allow us to reform anything. I just don't think that holds water."
"I'm sure many will make the argument Director Hayden is making," he added, "but I don't think it is a valid argument."
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