Senate To Grill NSA Over Surveillance Programs This Week


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It's been almost two months since Edward Snowden revealed the existence of the NSA's spy programs to the world. Any other issue would have been swept under the rug by now, but Congress is still pursuing changes to the agency. The House had their chance last week, and now it's the Senate's turn.

The Hill reports that the Senate Judiciary Committee will be holding a hearing this week in which its members will be looking into the NSA's spy programs. Both supporters and opponents of the agency will be present to make their case. In particular, James Cole, deputy attorney general at the Justice Department, and Jameel Jaffer, deputy legal director at the American Civil Liberties Union, will be making their case for or against the spy programs revealed last month.

What makes this hearing especially interesting is that it's being headed by the Judiciary Committee Chairman Patrick Leahy. He has already introduced legislation that would curtail the NSA's ability to collect phone records, and it sounds like he's going to use this hearing to further pursue his legislation:

“I remain deeply concerned about the expansive use of government surveillance under [the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act]. The authorities under this law, and the government’s interpretation of them, must be carefully scrutinized by Congress. As I have said, just because we have the ability to collect huge amounts of data, it does not mean that we should be doing so.”

Leahy's comments regarding the NSA leaves one hopeful, but the House's prior performance doesn't inspire much confidence. Last week, an amendment from Reps. Justin Amash and John Conyers that would have severely limited the NSA's spying powers tried to piggyback on the 2014 Defense spending bill. Unfortunately, the amendment was defeated in a narrow vote.

The narrow vote has some confident that a similar push in the Senate may yield more positive results, but you have to also remember that some of the most hardcore NSA supporters are in the Senate. This is largely the same Senate that refused to divulge details on how many Americans had been targeted by the NSA because some members said such details must be kept secret.

Even if I'm not particularly hopeful, the Senate does also house quite a few NSA opponents as well. Sens. Ron Wyden, Rand Paul and others could combine their powers with Leahy to push his legislation forward. We can only hope, right?