Sen. Dick Durbin Wants The NSA To Reveal The Scope Of Its Phone Surveillance Program


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In late July, Rep. Justin Amash proposed an amendment to the annual Defense spending bill that would prevent the NSA from targeting anybody not currently under an investigation. Unsurprisingly, the amendment was voted down. Now one Senator is trying the same thing in the Senate, but his attempt might be more successful.

The Hill reports that Sen. Dick Durbin, chairman of the Senate Appropriations Defense Subcommittee, has introduced a provision into the Senate's Defense spending bill that would require the NSA to reveal the number of phone records it collects. It would require the agency to also reveal when it started to collect phone records, how much it cost to collect said records and the kind of records it collects.

Durbin's provision would also require the NSA to disclose how many phone records were seen by agency officials as well as how many terrorist attacks were thwarted by the collection of these records. If you recall, the NSA's two favorite talking points are how only a select few have access to phone records, and that their data collection has thwarted a number of terrorist attacks. Recent leaks have cast doubt on the former claim, and some senators remain skeptical about the latter.

Echoing other lawmakers critical of the NSA, Durbin says that there's no need for the agency to collect everybody's phone records in the name of fighting terrorism:

"I believe the government can obtain the information it needs to combat terrorism in a far more targeted manner, rather than casting a dragnet for information about millions of innocent Americans. In the end, Congress permitted this type of intrusion because too few demanded a balance between security and our constitutionally protected freedoms. I hope this provision will help reopen the debate."

So, will this provision be approved when the Defense spending bill goes up for a vote? It definitely has a better chance than the Amash amendment as Durbin is only seeking to inject some transparency into the NSA. He would have a much tougher time of it if he tried to defund the agency. He also has the support of at least 25 senators.

Of course, we could end up with a close vote again that rids the spending bill of Durbin's provision. In that case, we can at least see who in the Senate is pro-NSA. With that knowledge, privacy advocacy groups and citizens can better target those senators who are pro-surveillance.