Congress reacts to NSA’s spying on U.S. citizens

A bipartisan group of senators has introduced on Tuesday a bill that would “require the Attorney General to declassify significant Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court (FISC) opinions, allowing Americans to know how broad of a legal authority the government is claiming to spy on Americans under the PATRIOT Act and Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act.”

Oregon Senator Ron Wyden, one of the bill’s sponsors, has also commented on the Director of National Intelligence James Clapper’s “least untruthful” statement to the Senate when asked whether the NSA collects any type of data at all on millions or hundreds of millions of Americans.

“One of the most important responsibilities a Senator has is oversight of the intelligence community. This job cannot be done responsibly if Senators aren’t getting straight answers to direct questions,” he stated. “Now public hearings are needed to address the recent disclosures and the American people have the right to expect straight answers from the intelligence leadership to the questions asked by their representatives.”

Jim Sensenbrenner, the Congressman that introduced the PATRIOT Act to the U.S. House of Representatives, has also accused the administration of falsely claiming that it allows NSA surveillance, and that President Obama lied when he said that every member of Congress has been briefed on the phone call data collecting program.

“Technically, the administration’s actions were lawful insofar as they were done pursuant to an order from the FISA court. But based on the scope of the released order, both the administration and the FISA court are relying on an unbounded interpretation of the act that Congress never intended,” he stated in an article for The Guardian.

Privacy advocates are also reacting with concrete measures.

After having filed a motion on Monday with the secret court (FISC) that oversees government surveillance in national security cases, requesting that it publish its opinions on the meaning, scope, and constitutionality of Section 215 of the Patriot Act, the ACLU has followed with a lawsuit against the Obama administration.

As a customer of Verizon, the organization argues that the order that required the telecom company to turn over metadata of all phone calls made by its customers violates their and the rest of the users’ rights of free speech and association, and privacy protected by the Fourth Amendment.

“This dragnet program is surely one of the largest surveillance efforts ever launched by a democratic government against its own citizens,” said Jameel Jaffer, ACLU deputy legal director. “It is the equivalent of requiring every American to file a daily report with the government of every location they visited, every person they talked to on the phone, the time of each call, and the length of every conversation. The program goes far beyond even the permissive limits set by the Patriot Act and represents a gross infringement of the freedom of association and the right to privacy.”

Noted computer security specialist Bruce Schneier also believes that investigations and lawsuits are a way to go about this.

“Edward Snowden broke the law by releasing classified information,” he says. “But before the Justice Department prosecutes Snowden, there are some other investigations that ought to happen. We need to determine whether these National Security Agency programs are themselves legal. The administration has successfully barred anyone from bringing a lawsuit challenging these laws, on the grounds of national secrecy. Now that we know those arguments are without merit, it’s time for those court challenges.”

He also noted that the U.S. needs to determine how the country should treat whistleblowers. In the U.S., corporate whistleblowers have mechanisms they can use and legal protection that government whistleblowers lack.

Finally, hacktivists have launched “Operation Troll The NSA”, which has so far resulted in being inaccessible (probably due to a DDoS attack), and has called on everyone and anyone to trigger the agency’s surveillance apparatus by emailing a “keywords-of-terror-filled script” or spouting the same text in a phone call.

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