Mood shifting, Congress may limit NSA spying

McClatchy Washington Bureau /

Published Jul 21, 2013 at 05:00AM

WASHINGTON — Congress is growing increasingly wary of controversial National Security Agency domestic surveillance programs, a concern likely to erupt during legislative debate — and perhaps prod legislative action — as early as next week.

Skepticism has been slowly building since last month’s disclosures that the super-secret NSA conducted programs that collected Americans’ telephone data. Dozens of lawmakers are introducing measures to make those programs less secret, and there’s talk of denying funding and refusing to continue authority for the snooping.

The anxiety is a sharp contrast to June’s wait-and-see attitude after Edward Snowden, a government contract worker, leaked highly classified data to the media.

Most in Congress remain reluctant to tinker with any program that could compromise security, but lawmakers are growing frustrated. “I think the administration and the NSA has had six weeks to answer questions and haven’t done a good job at it. They’ve been given their chances, but they have not taken those chances,” said Rep. Rick Larsen, D-Wash.

The House of Representatives could debate one of the first major bids for change soon. Rep. Justin Amash, R-Mich., is trying to add a provision to the military spending bill, due for House consideration next week, that would end the NSA’s mass collection of Americans’ telephone records. It’s unclear whether House leaders will allow the measure to be considered.

Other legislation could also start moving. Larsen is pushing a measure to require tech companies to publicly disclose the type and volume of data they have to turn over to the federal government. Several tech firms and civil liberties groups are seeking permission to do so. Other bipartisan efforts are also in the works.

The Obama administration maintains Congress shouldn’t be surprised. “These programs are not illegal,” said James Litt, general counsel for the Office of the Director of National Intelligence. “They are authorized by Congress.”