Chambliss: House NSA reforms go ‘a little bit too far’

Sen. Saxby Chambliss (R-Ga.) said the surveillance reform bill that passed the House last month goes too far in ending some of the National Security Agency’s (NSA) sweeping surveillance programs.

“I actually think they went a little bit too far on the bulk collection side of it,” Chambliss — the top Republican on the Senate Intelligence Committee — said Tuesday while speaking a Bloomberg event on cybersecurity.

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In May, the House passed the USA Freedom Act, aimed at reining in and increasing transparency and accountability around the NSA’s surveillance programs.

Though a compromise version of the bill was unanimously passed by the House Intelligence and Judiciary Committees — which had warred over who had ultimate jurisdiction — privacy advocates and some House members said the bill as further “watered down” after the committees’ votes and does not do enough to end bulk surveillance.

On Tuesday, Chambliss said he thinks the House bill is actually too aggressive, but said he is open to discussing some changes to the surveillance programs, including increased transparency measures and shorter retention periods for data.

“It’s not going to be easy” to bring together the senators on opposite sides of the spectrum when it comes to surveillance reform, he said, adding that he welcomes the debate.

Chambless said that he and Senate Intelligence Committee Chairwoman Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) and House Intelligence Committee Chairman Mike Rogers (R-Mich.) and ranking member Dutch Ruppersberger (D-Md.) will be able to reconcile any differences between the House bill and a reform bill that comes out of the Senate.

“I’m confident that Rogers, Ruppersberger, Dianne and I can bridge that gap quickly if we can get a bill out of the Senate,” he said.

The Senate Intelligence Committee has a hearing on surveillance reforms scheduled for Thursday, the one year anniversary of the first leaks from former NSA contractor Edward Snowden that prompted the calls for surveillance reform. 

Senate Judiciary Chairman Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) — co-author of the USA Freedom Act — said his committee will turn to surveillance reform this summer.