Lawmakers, Justice respond to surveillance plan (updated)

Author: Kevin Taglang
Coverage Type: reporting
Capitol Hill, NE and 1st Street, NE, Washington, DC, United States

President Barack Obama got a mixed reaction from Capitol Hill on his plan to reform government surveillance.

Senators Ron Wyden (D-OR), Mark Udall (D-CO), and Martin Heinrich (D-NM) released a joint statement: After the long push to rein in overbroad surveillance powers, we are very pleased that the President announced his intent to end the bulk collection of Americans’ phone records. Ending this dragnet collection will go a long way toward restoring Americans’ constitutional rights and rebuilding the public’s trust. Make no mistake, this is a major milestone in our longstanding efforts to reform the National Security Agency’s bulk collection program. We also believe that additional surveillance reforms are necessary, and we will continue to push for these reforms in the coming weeks and months. In particular, we will work to close the “back-door searches” loophole and ensure that the government does not read Americans’ emails or other communications without a warrant. We will work to ensure that intelligence activities do not recklessly undermine confidence in American IT products and American IT employers. We will also continue to press for meaningful reforms of the outdated Foreign Intelligence Surveillance court process. This should include the establishment of a strong, independent advocate to ensure that the Court hears both sides of the argument. We take seriously Ben Franklin’s admonition that a society that trades essential liberties for short-term security risks losing both. That’s why we have advocated for these reforms, as we believe it is possible to keep Americans safe while protecting our treasured constitutional rights and liberties. Today’s announcement does not include all the reforms we have sought. The President has listened to some of the advice of his independent panel of experts and endorsed some of the reforms we have long advocated. The fight to protect liberty and increase security is far from over. The groundswell of public support that has built for these reforms over the past several months shows that the American public shares our view of the importance of reining in overbroad and unnecessary surveillance powers that infringe on Americans’ constitutional rights. Today’s announcement is vindication of that activism and we look forward to working with the President and our colleagues to push forward on these reforms in the weeks and months ahead.

  • Sen Rand Paul (R-KY), a fierce critic of the National Security Agency’s surveillance programs, said in a statement he was disappointed with the details of Obama’s announcement. He said the reforms would still keep the “same unconstitutional program with a new configuration.”
  • Sen Dean Heller (R-NV) welcomed Obama’s announcement that the existing metadata collection program would end.
  • Sen Mark Udall (D-CO) considered Obama’s decisions to be substantial.
  • Rep Adam Schiff (D-CA), a senior member of the House Intelligence Committee, said he welcomed Obama’s changes, but added they must go even further.
  • Rep Jim Himes (D-CT) said the proposal to create a panel of public advocates on the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court would help safeguard citizens’ privacy.
  • Rep Peter King (R-NY) said the speech was “better than expected” and left most programs intact. He expressed concern about extending US citizen privacy rights to foreigners.

The Department of Justice also weighed in: “The Attorney General believes that the President’s reforms will further ensure that the proper balance is struck between the need to keep the nation safe and the need to safeguard our civil liberties. In the weeks ahead, the Justice Department will work closely with the intelligence community and other key administration officials to implement the President’s reforms.”


The Commerce Department will continue to act as the voice of business in the federal government to protect U.S. economic competitiveness as we review and evaluate our national security policies. As a principal champion of the digital economy, we at the Department of Commerce understand how critical it is that we continue to promote the free flow of information in a manner that protects both privacy and security, not just for all Americans and our businesses, but also citizens of other nations. As part of that effort, I look forward to working with the President’s Council of Advisors on Science and Technology, privacy experts, technologists and business leaders as part of a comprehensive review of big data and privacy. Through our department’s policy agenda, we are also committed to supporting standards development that supports the innovative potential of the digital economy. We are confident that with this we can shape an approach that meets our security needs, protects privacy and ensures the continued growth and innovation of the global digital economy.

DNI James Clapper: The President took a measured and thoughtful approach to the initiatives he announced today. His reforms are focused on striking the right balance between making sure we have the tools necessary to conduct intelligence, and ensuring that we are being as transparent as possible and abiding by protocols that protect the civil liberties and privacy of all Americans. He reminded us that as technology advances, we continue to face new and evolving threats to our national security and must adjust our policies and practices to ensure that our intelligence activities are both necessary and appropriate. In the coming weeks, we will work with our oversight committees to implement the President’s reforms while we continue to focus on the intelligence challenges facing the United States and our allies.



Login to rate this headline.