Top lawmakers fight to save NSA snooping program

December 21, 2013

The top four lawmakers who oversee the U.S. intelligence community said Friday that President Obama should reject his own review panel’s recommendations that bulk collection of government of Americans’ phone records should be curbed.

In a joint statement, the top Democrats and Republicans on both the House and Senate intelligence committees said Americans don’t appreciate how vital the NSA’s phone-snooping is to national security, and they pleaded with Mr. Obama not to scrap the program.

“The NSA’s metadata program is a valuable analytical tool that assists intelligence personnel in their efforts to efficiently ‘connect the dots’ on emerging or current terrorist threats directed against Americans in the United States,” the four lawmakers said. “The necessity of this program cannot be measured merely by the number of terrorist attacks disrupted, but must also take into account the extent to which it contributes to the overall efforts of intelligence professionals to quickly respond to, and prevent, rapidly emerging terrorist threats.”

The four lawmakers, Sens. Dianne Feinstein and Saxby Chambliss, and Reps. Mike Rogers and C.A. Dutch Ruppersberger, are fighting an uphill battle, however.

On Monday, a federal judge ruled that the National Security Agency’s program to collect the telephone numbers, times and durations of almost all calls made in the U.S. likely violates Americans’ privacy rights.

And on Wednesday, Mr. Obama released the conclusions of his own review panel, which called for the NSA to be prohibited from collecting bulk records, and called for a number of other new restrictions on government snooping.

Both the federal judge and the review panel questioned the value of the phone-tracking, saying they didn’t see evidence that it has contributed to national security.

A number of lawmakers, both liberals and conservatives, have banded together to try to end the government’s bulk-records collection.

On Friday, at his year-end press conference, Mr. Obama said he’s open to most of his panel’s 46 recommendations, including prohibiting the NSA from keeping the phone records. Under one alternative, phone companies would be told to store the metadata and the government could only go through the records with a secret court’s permission.