Privacy groups grade lawmakers on NSA votes

A coalition of privacy groups is ranking lawmakers over their stance on surveillance reform as they press Congress to pass legislation.

Twenty-one groups — including the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF), Reddit and the Sunlight Foundation — released a Congressional Scorecard Friday that assigns lawmakers a grade based on their support for surveillance reform measures.

Some of the high scorers include surveillance critics Reps. Zoe Lofgren (D-Calif.), Justin Amash (R-Mich.) and Suzan DelBene (D-Wash.), as well as Sens. Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.), Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) and Ron Wyden (D-Ore.).

The leadership of the Intelligence Committees — Senate committee Chairwoman Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), House committee Chairman Mike Rogers (R-Mich.) and ranking member Rep. Dutch Ruppersberger (D-Md.), who have defended the surveillance programs — received failing grades.

“We believe that people have a right to know whether their members of Congress are doing their jobs and helping to end mass spying,” the groups said on the new site housing the scorecard.

“Our scorecard shines a light on all members of Congress, allowing citizens of the Internet to see whether their elected representatives stand as champions or roadblocks to real surveillance reform.”

Of the included lawmakers, 241 received an “A,” 188 received an “F” and 77 received a question mark, indicating a lack of significant involvement in the debate.

According to the site, the scores are determined based on sponsorship of and votes for “a few keys bills” and amendments.

In the House, members got positive marks for supporting the original USA Freedom Act, the Surveillance State Repeal Act and amendments to defense funding bills that would have curtailed surveillance activities.

House members got negative marks for supporting the House Intelligence Committee’s surveillance bill and the House-passed version of the USA Freedom Act, which pro-reform advocates and lawmakers say was too watered-down in eleventh-hour negotiations to support.

House Judiciary Committee Chairman Bob Goodlatte (R-Va.), who pushed ahead with compromise versions of the USA Freedom Act, received a “C,” while House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio), who brought the compromised bill to the floor, received an “F.”

In the Senate, lawmakers received positive marks for supporting the original USA Freedom Act and negative marks for supporting the Senate Intelligence Committee’s surveillance bill.

The site noted that the scorecard only incorporates votes and sponsorships, not other shows of support, such as letters or public statements.

“While these are all positive actions, we graded only the most important actions: co-sponsorships and voting history,” the site said.

The groups’ website calls on Congress and President Obama to rein in U.S. surveillance.

"More Americans than ever now think the [National Security Agency] has gone too far,” Rainey Reitman, EFF activism director, said in a statement.

“The American people — and frankly people all over the world — can't wait any longer for Congress to rein in the NSA." 

Also on Friday, some of the groups behind the scorecard — EFF, Greenpeace and the Tenth Amendment Center — flew an aircraft over an NSA data center in Utah.

The aircraft carried a banner with the message “NSA Illegal Spying Below” and promoted the scorecard’s website.

“We're flying an airship over the Utah data center, which has come to symbolize the NSA's collect-it-all approach to surveillance, and demanding an end to the mass spying,” Reitman said.

“It's time for bold action in defense of our privacy."