Top spy panel Dem demands NSA reforms

Top spy panel Dem demands NSA reforms
© Greg Nash

The top Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee is doubling down on his call for changes to the National Security Agency.

Rep. Adam SchiffAdam Bennett SchiffDOJ lawyers resign en masse over Roger Stone sentencing George Conway: We might have to impeach Trump again How Lamar Alexander clouds the true meaning of the Constitution MORE (Calif.) on Thursday predicted that lawmakers would not reauthorize portions of the Patriot Act — which expire on June 1 — unless significant changes were made to the spy agency’s powers.

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“When we return from the April recess, we will only have a matter of weeks to address the expiration of section 215,” Schiff said in a statement, referring to the section of the Patriot Act that authorizes the NSA’s bulk collection of data about Americans’ phone calls. After this week, the House is out of session until April 13.

“I do not believe a clean re-authorization of this section is desirable or could gather sufficient votes for passage,” he added.

“It is my hope, instead, that we will take up and pass reforms along the lines of the USA Freedom Act and legislation that I introduced last session to end bulk collection, reform the metadata program, establish an independent expert to advocate for privacy in the [Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act] Court and increase transparency.”

The statement from Schiff, who has supported reform of the NSA, increases the pressure for changes in the law ahead of the June 1 sunset date. Reformers have eyed that deadline as their best chance to push reform, after the USA Freedom Act failed to pass the Senate last year. The USA Freedom Act would have effectively ended the NSA’s collection of Americans’ phone records and instead required officials to get the information from a telephone company only after obtaining a court order, among other changes.

“By restructuring the program to end the bulk collection of phone metadata, and allowing for the records to be retained by the companies themselves and queried on a case by case basis by the government pursuant to a court order, we can better protect the public and its privacy,” Schiff said.

So far, lawmakers have yet to settle on a path forward ahead of the Patriot Act deadline. 

The issue has cut across party lines, but Schiff’s commitment to serious reforms will likely give some hope to civil libertarians. Supporters of the NSA, meanwhile, worry that any serious changes would undermine national security, especially amid the rise of new threats from the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria and other groups.