11.20.14

National Journal: Democrat Presses NSA: Don't Wait for Congress to End Mass Spying

Brendan Sasso of the National Journal reports on domestic surveillance reform:

Legislation to rein in a domestic surveillance program crashed and burned in the Senate earlier this week. But one House Democrat is urging the Obama administration to stop the controversial spying on its own.

"There's no reason, if you think that this is the correct policy, that you have to wait for the Congress to mandate you to do it," Rep. Adam Schiff, a California Democrat, said to National Security Agency Director Adm. Mike Rogers at a hearing Thursday.

President Obama and Director of National Intelligence James Clapper endorsed the USA Freedom Act, which would have ended the NSA's bulk collection of data on millions of U.S. phone calls. Under the bill, the data would have remained with the phone companies, but the NSA could gain access to data on particular suspects with court approval. Senate Republicans blocked the bill from advancing on Tuesday, effectively killing the push for reform this year.

At Thursday's House Intelligence Committee hearing, Rogers noted that the NSA did implement new privacy reforms earlier this year to comply with directions from President Obama. Although the NSA still forces the phone companies to turn over vast batches of data, it only accesses that data with approval from the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court.

But Schiff argued that there's no reason the NSA should be collecting massive batches of data in the first place. The data includes phone numbers, call times, and call durations, although not the contents of any conversations.

"There is no statutory mandate at this time for the government to collect bulk metadata," Schiff said. "You don't have to wait for the USA Freedom Act."

The White House did not respond Thursday to say whether the president would support unilaterally ending the controversial mass surveillance program.

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By:  Brendan Sasso
Source: National Journal