All three members of Vermont’s congressional delegation say the
passage of legislation that restricts government surveillance programs is a
top priority for 2014.
Sen. Patrick Leahy is expected to take a lead role in the national debate
over this issue. As the chairman of the Senate Judiciary committee, Leahy
will hold hearings that examine the scope of the NSA’s monitoring programs
and he’s also the lead sponsor of legislation that makes some key changes to
the US Patriot Act.
Leahy said the changes are needed because a federal judge has ruled that
some of the NSA programs are unconstitutional and last week a blue-ribbon
commission was sharply critical of the administration’s surveillance
programs. Leahy said it’s clear that the NSA has gone too far and needs to
be reined in.
“Then when they say ‘but don’t worry we’re keeping this very carefully
control we’re not spying on you I say baloney,” said Leahy. “You let a
29-year -old subcontractor walk off with all your secrets and to this day
having spent millions and millions and millions of dollars you don’t even
know how much he stole. That doesn’t give me a great deal of confidence. I
don’t think that makes us any safer.”
“We live in an electronic age today that is very frightening,” said Leahy on
the need to restrict government surveillance programs.
Leahy said he’s concerned that the government surveillance programs will get
more intrusive if Congress doesn’t act this winter to create some new
parameters for these programs.
“If we also allow a situation where the government can ultimately know every
single thing about you,” said Leahy. “All your private dealings, from your
medical records to your personal correspondence which is what this will lead
to because we live in an electronic age today that is very frightening.”
Leahy’s bill would require the NSA to establish probable cause to a federal
intelligence court judge before being allowed to conduct surveillance
activities on a specific individual. The legislation also calls for the
appointment of a public advocate to review the government’s case.
Sen. Bernie Sanders strongly supports these changes.
“If they have probable cause that somebody is involved in terrorism, go
after them and do all the investigating you have to do tap all the phones
you have to tap,” said Sanders. “But that is a very different proposition
than saying we are going to be collecting data on virtually every single
American 99.9 percent of whom have nothing to do with terrorism.”
Congressman Peter Welch is working to pass a companion bill in the U.S.
House. Welch said the government’s current data collection programs aren’t
as effective as they could be.
“When you’re that broad you’re not effective. I mean you can’t do every
conceivable thing that you think you want to do,” said Welch. “You’ve got to
exercise some judgment and some focus.”
The Senate Judiciary Committee will begin its review of this issue on Jan.
14 when the panel will hold a special public hearing to review the
surveillance programs of the Obama administration.