Menu
Senators question need to rein in NSA surveillance

Senators question need to rein in NSA surveillance

Several senators say they oppose reform legislation, even though many advocates see it as too weak

The U.S. Congress would endanger the nation's security by passing even watered-down legislation to limit the National Security Agency's bulk collection of domestic phone records, several U.S. senators said Thursday.

Several members of the Senate Intelligence Committee voiced opposition to the USA Freedom Act, a bill aimed at reining in NSA bulk collection of telephone and other records, even though many civil liberties groups and technology companies have questioned whether the bill would work as its sponsors originally envisioned.

With the USA Freedom Act, Congress is "compromising to please a skeptical and frequently misinformed public" that's mistakenly worried about NSA surveillance, Senator Dan Coats, an Indiana Republican, said during a hearing on the House bill, taking place one year after the first leaks from former NSA contractor Edward Snowden were published.

The USA Freedom Act would ban what the NSA and the U.S. Department of Justice consider "bulk" collection of phone and business records, said James Cole, deputy attorney general at the DOJ. But Cole parsed the definition of "bulk" collection.

Quoting a House Intelligence Committee report on the USA Freedom Act, Cole said, "Bulk collection means indiscriminate acquisition. It does not mean the acquisition of a large number of communication records." Therefore, the House bill would allow the NSA collection of large numbers of records, if that collection were approved by the U.S. surveillance court.

An amended definition of what records the bill allows the NSA to collect gives the agency wide latitude, said Senator Mark Udall, a Colorado Democrat. The version of the USA Freedom Act that passed the House "is not the true reform I've demanded, and many other Americans have demanded, for years," he said.

The House bill is "vague enough to still allow the collection of mass information," Udall said. "The NSA has shown time and time again it will seize on any wiggle room in the law, and there's plenty of that in this bill."

The NSA phone records program helps protect national security, several senators argued, even though critics have found that many of the examples of investigations given to justify the program have only a limited connection to it.

Nevertheless, the Senate should "step back" and reconsider whether to pass the USA Freedom Act, said Senator Saxby Chambliss, a Georgia Republican.

"It seems to me this bill is fixing a lot of things that simply aren't broken," Chambliss said. "My name is in [the NSA database] along with everybody else's. But frankly, I'm not worried because I don't talk to terrorists."

The House of Representatives passed a watered-down version of the USA Freedom Act, approved by Obama's administration, in May despite concerns from privacy advocates that it would allow the NSA to continue to collect business records under broad categories.

The CEOs of Apple, Facebook, Google, Microsoft, Twitter and other tech companies urged senators to narrow the definition of records the NSA could search.

"Unfortunately, the version that just passed the House of Representatives could permit bulk collection of Internet 'metadata,' something that the Administration and Congress said they intended to end," the tech CEOs said in a letter to senators Thursday.

Several former backers of the USA Freedom Act, including some of its original sponsors, withdrew their support for the bill after lawmakers made changes to it, advocated by the Obama administration, in the week leading up to the May 22 House vote.

A major change to the bill before the House vote was an expanded definition of a 'specific selection term" that the NSA must use to target its searches. The amended version of the bill allows the NSA to target things such as a "person, entity, accounts, address, or device," instead of, in the original language, a "person, entity, or account."

The words "address" and "device" in the new language, as well as the open-ended term "such as," would allow the NSA to target wide groups of people, critics have said. The new version of the bill would allow the NSA to target an entire state, an entire phone network or an entire email provider, Harley Geiger, senior counsel for the Center for Democracy and Technology, told senators.

Still, several members of the intelligence committee, Republicans and Democrats, questioned the need for even the watered-down bill.

Leaks by Snowden have led to the "continual demonization" of the NSA, said Senator Barbara Mikulski, a Democrat from Maryland, where the NSA is headquartered. People working at the NSA "keep America safe," she said.

Senator John "Jay" Rockefeller, a West Virginia Democrat, called the proposed NSA reform "unnecessary and unpredictable." The USA Freedom Act "might make the public feel better," but would hurt national security. he said.

The NSA has trained people watching over the data the agency collects, while the House bill would create a new program that has the telecom carriers holding onto the phone records, he said.

"The public's never going to trust us, but if we're doing something for national security, which is trustworthy, by trustworthy people who are trained ... why cash it out?" Rockefeller said. "Nobody has complained about privacy violations. Everybody's worried about what might happen."

Grant Gross covers technology and telecom policy in the U.S. government for The IDG News Service. Follow Grant on Twitter at GrantGross. Grant's email address is grant_gross@idg.com.

Follow Us

Join the New Zealand Reseller News newsletter!

Error: Please check your email address.

Tags telecommunicationBarbara MikulskiinternetlegislationprivacyFacebookMark UdallJohn "Jay" RockefellerAppleSaxby ChamblissGoogleMicrosoftsecurityEdward SnowdenHarley GeigertwitterCenter for Democracy and TechnologyDan CoatsgovernmentJames ColeU.S. Department of JusticeU.S. Senate Intelligence CommitteeU.S. National Security Agency

Featured

Slideshows

Educating from the epicentre - Why distributors are the pulse checkers of the channel

Educating from the epicentre - Why distributors are the pulse checkers of the channel

​As the channel changes and industry voices deepen, the need for clarity and insight heightens. Market misconceptions talk of an “under pressure” distribution space, with competitors in that fateful “race for relevance” across New Zealand. Amidst the cliched assumptions however, distribution is once again showing its strength, as a force to be listened to, rather than questioned. Traditionally, the role was born out of a need for vendors and resellers to find one another, acting as a bridge between the testing lab and the marketplace. Yet despite new technologies and business approaches shaking the channel to its very core, distributors remain tied to the epicentre - providing the voice of reason amidst a seismic industry shift. In looking across both sides of the vendor and partner fences, the middle concept of the three-tier chain remains centrally placed to understand the metrics of two differing worlds, as the continual pulse checkers of the local channel. This exclusive Reseller News Roundtable, in association with Dicker Data and rhipe, examined the pivotal role of distribution in understanding the health of the channel, educating from the epicentre as the market transforms at a rapid rate.

Educating from the epicentre - Why distributors are the pulse checkers of the channel
Kiwi channel reunites as After Hours kicks off 2017

Kiwi channel reunites as After Hours kicks off 2017

After Hours made a welcome return to the channel social calendar last night, with a bumper crowd of distributors, vendors and resellers descending on The Jefferson in Auckland to kickstart 2017. Photos by Maria Stefina.

Kiwi channel reunites as After Hours kicks off 2017
Arrow exclusively introduces Tenable Network Security to A/NZ channel

Arrow exclusively introduces Tenable Network Security to A/NZ channel

Arrow Electronics introduced Tenable Network Security to local resellers in Sydney last week, officially launching the distributor's latest security partnership across Australia and New Zealand. Representing the first direct distribution agreement locally for Tenable specifically, the deal sees Arrow deliver security solutions directly to mid-market and enterprise channel partners on both sides of the Tasman.

Arrow exclusively introduces Tenable Network Security to A/NZ channel
Show Comments