December 22nd, 2013
03:56 PM ET
7 months ago

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

(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."


Filed under: Joe Manchin • Mark Udall • Mike Rogers • NSA • Pat Leahy • Peter King
soundoff (11 Responses)
  1. don in albuquerque

    I bet the founding fathers would be astounded. I can just hear ole Ben Franklin now, " Telewhat? The Interwhat?" I know what they were trying to say, but probably not the best way to put words together.

    December 22, 2013 04:16 pm at 4:16 pm |
  2. regenesis0

    It's amazing how the chairman of the House Intelligence Committee can declare there was no wrongdoing and no scandal in the program he approved and oversaw - whose leaders have been lying to congress under oath, denying subpoenas, etc.
    Where there's smoke there's fire. The NID lied under oath. The committee which approved this is vehemently "No no no, our investigation shows we did nothing wrong!" What. A. Surprise. They also say there's no scandal - so why is everyone acting so scandalized.
    Keep squeezing until something pops, then we'll get some real answers.
    Then keep squeezing some ore until some of these weasels go to prison.
    (Then keep squeezing some more until all of them do.)

    December 22, 2013 04:55 pm at 4:55 pm |
  3. regenesis0

    It's amazing how the chairman of the House Intelligence Committee can declare there was no wrongdoing and no scandal in the program he approved and oversaw – whose leaders have been lying to congress under oath, denying subpoenas, etc.
    Where there's smoke there's fire. The NID lied under oath. The committee which approved this is vehemently "No no no, our investigation shows we did nothing wrong!" What. A. Surprise. They also say there's no scandal – so why is everyone acting so scandalized.
    Keep squeezing until something pops, then we'll get some real answers.
    Then keep squeezing some ore until some of these weasels go to prison.
    (Then keep squeezing some more until all of them do.)

    December 22, 2013 04:55 pm at 4:55 pm |
  4. Peter Wexler

    There is no debate, here. There is no question. The NSA did us all wrong, and from my point of view, that goes double for me. I didn't do anything wrong that would provoke any kind of surveillance, and yet, NSA is looking at my stuff?

    So, now NSA should be watching me, and here is why: If you work for NSA, and you live anywhere near me, I won't think twice about burning your house down, with you and your family in it.

    December 22, 2013 05:18 pm at 5:18 pm |
  5. rs

    You know, you create an agency to do something (like collect data in secret using high-tech), and that is exactly what they do. It is really hard to "reign-in" an agency of this sort, short of overturning the USA PATRIOT Act (and the NSA). Given how long the NSA has been around, and the the UPA is more than a decade old, and that every other nation in the world does exactly the same stuff, I think this is simply a feel-good exercise for Congress. So few actually understand what the NSA is doing in any event, so it will be easy to make it seem everything is changed. The sad thing is everyone (especially on the Intelligence Committees- even Bachmann) know precisely what has been going on.

    December 22, 2013 06:18 pm at 6:18 pm |
  6. Winston Smith

    It's a damn shame we have to live in a world where this kind of data collecting has to be done, but the truth is it exists, and you either gather information, or suffer the consequences of being unprepared for the meanness that is the relations between peoples and countries. Does the data mined have to be as thorough as it is, maybe not. Does the information have to be sieved through the finest filter known to modern man, maybe not. However; think back a few years when several of our own planes were used as weapons against us, two towers taken down, the pentagon attacked and a plane crashed in a pasture. The lives lost, and the massive amount of egg thrown on the faces of the political administration in charge at the time. Is Snowden a hero? To many yes. Will the snooping on the American people be stopped? It's doubtful. The day you received a social security card, is the day your privacy, or the perceived right to privacy was placed in the null and void column. Think about it.

    December 22, 2013 06:46 pm at 6:46 pm |
  7. Servers

    Merry Christmas everyone : ) I was wondering if CNN could run a general article about Christmas family politics. I think an article like this could help alleviate and highlight the family conversations that will be taking place this season. What do you think?

    December 22, 2013 09:39 pm at 9:39 pm |
  8. J.V.Hodgson

    The problem starts from two basic facts about we Americans.
    1) Our ability to have an extreme response. In this case the Patriot Act.
    2) An underlying characteristic of Xenophobia, or ultra nationalism if you prefer.
    The result, an old proverb of Act in haste and repent at leisure.
    Then we have to blame someone for the mess of 1 above and choose someone who is now head of government to blame. even more naïve.
    Hello Y'all spying is ,was, and remains a dirty game and always will be.
    The fond belief of privacy advocates that there will never be an American born and lived 100 % the American dream not create some ( 1 at least/ like lots more) American national horrid terrorist acts is naïve or might I say over patriotic or ?? Xenophobic!!
    Yes improvements can be made, lets both sides calm down and act in a considered way and then not into short a time repent at leisure again.
    Regards,
    Hodgson.

    December 23, 2013 12:19 am at 12:19 am |
  9. TheFred

    This unconstitutional hoarding of our phone records is just the kind of tactic Government uses to usurp freedom from law abiding citizens... Hey we're only asking for a little of your 4th amendment rights. You want to be safe, right? The Beast wants more power!

    December 23, 2013 12:44 am at 12:44 am |
  10. California

    Considering Obama modified the Patriot Act, Obama owns it.

    December 23, 2013 12:49 am at 12:49 am |
  11. Alan. S.

    The NSA unfortunately is run by individuals stuck in the militaristic/law enforcement mindset which narrow thought process prevents them to adequately address all the sensitive issues at hand, such as 4th ammendment constitutional rights to privacy. Their inability to keep up with the technological sophistication of Cyber Crooks, who many are from terrorist groups that use these funds to continue their exploits agaist us, proves the need for the private sector involvement, such as Microsoft, who by the way makes all the operating software for the world. A combination of both private and the military would provide the most optimal solution in which would both protect Americans 4th Ammendent rights yet enable the Government to aggressively pursue Cyber theifs/hacker, i.e. Terrorists.

    December 23, 2013 06:41 am at 6:41 am |