House Judiciary chief claims jurisdiction over NSA reform

The head of the House Judiciary Committee is asserting his panel’s jurisdiction over any legislation to reform surveillance programs at the National Security Agency (NSA) and elsewhere.

“This is the jurisdiction of the Judiciary Committee,” Rep. Bob Goodlatte (R-Va.) said on C-SPAN’s “Newsmakers” on Thursday night. 

“Obviously the Intelligence Committee has an interest in how intelligence is gathered, but because of the civil liberties entailed that must be protected under our Bill of Rights, this is very clearly the jurisdiction of our committee,” he added.

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Analysts have raised questions about which of the two panels would be given primary jurisdiction over the issue, a decision that could determine how far reform legislation will go.

The Judiciary panel, which has been more critical of the surveillance habits, has traditionally had oversight of surveillance laws, but a bill introduced by leaders of the House Intelligence Committee earlier this year was sent to that panel, a decision that ruffled some lawmakers’ feathers.

Rep. Jerrold Nadler (D-N.Y.), a member of the Judiciary Committee and fierce critic of the NSA programs, said he was “deeply concerned” about the decision.

On C-SPAN, Goodlatte declined to back any specific piece of legislation to rein in the NSA.

Many members of his committee have supported the USA Freedom Act, which has more than 140 co-sponsors in the House and would make the most sweeping changes to the NSA.

Goodlatte is not one of the co-sponsors and declined to say whether or not the bill, which has been sitting in his committee for months, would be moved to the House floor.

“No decision has been made about that yet but we are working in a very collaborative fashion to look at all of the ideas that are out there and find the best way forward,” he said.

Last month, the White House unveiled a proposal to end the NSA’s bulk collection and storage of records about phone records, the program that has gained the most attention after being revealed in documents leaked by former agency contractor Edward Snowden. Instead, private phone companies would hold on to that data and government agents would be able to search for information only with a court order.

The proposal did not include formal legislative language, which has worried some of the NSA’s critics.

“We would like more specifics there, but we think that’s important as well,” Goodlatte said about the effort.

Attorney General Eric Holder said this week that the administration was working on additional proposals to reform the NSA, which would be announced in coming weeks and months.