Gowdy doubts lawmakers were briefed on years of NSA privacy breaches

Rep. Trey Gowdy (R-S.C.) said late Friday that he doubts that members of Congress were briefed on the thousands of privacy violations committed by the National Security Agency, which were revealed earlier this week.

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An internal NSA audit and other documents leaked by Edward Snowden revealed that the agency had broken its own privacy rules and violated privacy rights of citizens thousands of times since 2008, according to The Washington Post.

“I wonder how many of my colleagues in Congress were briefed that there were thousands of errors made with respect to this program because I have a sneaking suspicion the number is zero,” said Gowdy on Fox News.

“That's how many of my colleagues were told ahead of time before we had to learn from a leaker to a newspaper that there were thousands of violations.”

Many members of Congress, including Senate Intelligence Committee Chairman Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), who is charged with overseeing the NSA, have said they were not made aware of the audit until recently.

And Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) has called for a hearing on the matter when Congress returns next month.

Gowdy said he’s been hearing a great roar of dissatisfaction and distrust from voters in his South Carolina district, and that Congress needs to take serious steps to fix its oversight capabilities of highly secretive intelligence operations, like those carried out by the NSA.

“If we don't get that figured out, I'm not worried about winning elections, I'm worried about the republic,” said Gowdy. “People who are governed have consented to be governed [and] have to have trust in the people we have put in positions of responsibility.”

The NSA audit found that the spy agency had procured private communications thousands of times without proper authorization. Most of the incidents were unintended and involved unauthorized surveillance of Americans or foreign targets in the United States, according to the Post report.

Gowdy pointed to the need to balance privacy with security, saying that in order to try and prevent attacks like those on Sept. 11, 2001, the government has made great strides towards being more secure. But, in doing so, he said he worries that civil liberties may have been sacrificed.

“I think there's a growing mood in Congress on both sides of the aisle that we have over-skewed it towards public safety and away from privacy. And that is very difficult for a former prosecutor to say, but I believe it,” he said.