Privacy watchdog: Don’t use Paris attacks to expand surveillance

Privacy watchdog: Don’t use Paris attacks to expand surveillance
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This month’s terror attacks in Paris should not be used as an excuse to expand government federal surveillance powers, the head of a small privacy watchdog agency says.

The head of the Privacy and Civil Liberties Oversight Board wrote in a CNN op-ed this week that lawmakers and government officials should “take a deep breath” before making any hasty decisions to expand spying powers that could jeopardize people’s liberties. 

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“Rather than reacting reflexively, we should ask thoughtful questions and give careful consideration to multiple crucial issues that are at hand,” David Medine wrote.

“Simply put, the Paris tragedy should not be used as the basis for rapidly expanding mass surveillance programs without due consideration and public debate, where possible, about the important balance between national security concerns and privacy and civil liberties.”

In particular, he pointed to calls from some conservative Republican senators who have tried to delay this Sunday’s implementation of legislation to rein in the National Security Agency (NSA).

A bill authored by Sen. Tom Cotton (R-Ark.) has received support from Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) as well as Sens. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.), John McCain (R-Ariz.), John Cornyn (R-Texas) and others. It would push this weekend’s deadline back into 2017. 

“We should not so hastily seek to undo a carefully balanced piece of legislation that was enacted after almost two years of robust public debate,” Medine wrote.

Last year, Medine’s board declared that the NSA’s sweeping collection of Americans’ phone records was illegal and did not help to find suspected terrorists, in a high-profile decision that gave a boost to the agency’s reformers. 

The Paris attacks have prompted a new focus on national security, following roughly two years of scrutiny on global intelligence powers in the wake of government whistleblower Edward Snowden’s leaks.

In addition to rolling back the NSA reforms, lawmakers have also increased the call for limits on tech companies’ ability to offer encryption technologies that even spies and police can’t access.