Tags: NSA/Surveillance | nsa | megadata | phone | records | terrorism | surveillance

Lawmakers in No Hurry to End NSA Phone Surveillance

By    |   Tuesday, 03 Mar 2015 11:56 AM

The Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court last week approved a request from the Obama administration to extend operations of the National Security Agency's controversial mass surveillance program until June 1, when the program is set to expire, but few in Congress appear eager to act before that deadline, reports DefenseOne.

While several bills were introduced in the last Congress to reform the NSA's massive collection of Americans' phone records, no new bill has emerged to date, which has some civil libertarians concerned that Congress may simply pass a clean reauthorization.

"I think there is going to be a very inconvenient and strong difference of opinion within the Republican Party about how to proceed here. This is why we strongly recommended that we pass [reforms] last year, to avoid a significant interparty split," Kevin Bankston, policy director at the New America Foundation’s Open Technology Institute, told The Hill earlier this year.

The divide among lawmakers also reflects divisions between lawmakers and the grass roots concerning the value and constitutionality of the NSA program.

According to a poll conducted by The Polling Company during last week's Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) meeting, the rise of the Islamic State and an increase in the brutality and frequency of terrorist attacks abroad have not swayed opposition to government surveillance among the most conservative members of the Republican Party.

Asked their opinion of the NSA's collection of phone data for the purpose of preventing terrorist attacks and tracking those who may have links to terrorism, 65 percent of respondents at CPAC opposed the program, compared with 32 percent who supported it.

That number is down slightly from the 78 percent who opposed the program at last year's conference.

While conservative activists might be upfront about their opposition, few of the speakers at this year's CPAC hit hard on the NSA surveillance program.

That absence "is a little more surprising when you consider that the 2016 candidates in attendance packed their speeches with hawkish, red-meat criticisms of President Obama’s foreign policy and promises to restore America’s standing in the world," said The National Review's Patrick Brennan.

Brennan noted that even the libertarian Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul, "who’s at times tried to build a more restrained foreign policy vision and heavily criticized government surveillance programs, was heavy on the foreign-policy talk and didn’t spend much time hitting the NSA."

Paul won the CPAC straw poll for the third consecutive year, and has criticized some of his GOP rivals for their stated support of the NSA surveillance program.

In his first major foreign policy speech delivered last month, former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush did not shy away from defending the NSA's controversial metadata program as a crucial element in the fight against terrorism.

"That requires responsible intelligence-gathering and analysis, including the NSA metadata program, which contributes to awareness of potential terrorist cells and interdiction efforts on a global scale.

"For the life of me, I don't understand [how] the debate has gotten off track, where we're not understanding and protecting — we do protect our civil liberties, but this is a hugely important program to use these technologies to keep us safe," Bush said, according to The National Journal.

It was that defense of the NSA by Bush that Paul took a clear shot at in an interview with Politico prior to CPAC.

"A lot of kids are concerned with privacy, and the fact that he’s come out to be a big advocate for the surveillance state and the dragnet, collecting all the phone records — if he’s smart, he won’t probably bring that up at CPAC."

However, the general public appears to have less concern about their privacy rights and more concern about their safety.

According to a Pew Research analysis released in January, 51 percent of Americans have a favorable view of the NSA, including 47 percent of Republicans.

A larger number (58 percent) of Democrats support the NSA, according to the poll conducted Jan. 7-11.

It is notable that only the Internal Revenue Service is viewed less favorably than the NSA, the Pew poll found.

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A court last week approved an Obama administration request to extend operations of the National Security Agency's controversial mass surveillance program until June 1, when the program is set to expire, but few in Congress appear eager to act before that deadline.
nsa, megadata, phone, records, terrorism, surveillance
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2015-56-03
Tuesday, 03 Mar 2015 11:56 AM
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