Democratic representative tells Obama to adopt comprehensive NSA spying reforms

By Eric Boehm | Watchdog.org

MINNEAPOLIS — On the eve of his much-anticipated address about possible reforms to the National Security Agency‘s domestics find programs, President Barack Obama was encouraged by a member of his own party to embrace sweeping reforms that his own review committee recommended.

GRAYSON: The two-term Florida congressman is known for being one of the most outspoken liberals in Congress – but now he’s taking on the president over soon-to-be announced changes to NSA spying policy.

U.S. Rep Alan Grayson, D-Fla., on Thursday introduced a simple one-page bill that would put into law the series of recommendations made by Obama’s NSA review committee last month. The committee’s suggestions include ending the government’s collection of telephone metadata and curbing the NSA’s ability to spy on Americans and foreigners with additional legal permissions required before bulk data collection could take place.

Grayson said the review board’s proposals were “coherent and comprehensive,” and he did not want to see them implemented in a piecemeal fashion.

The recommendations contained in this report are essential to our privacy and our liberty,” Grayson said in a statement. “I’d like to see them implemented immediately and that’s precisely what my bill will do.

Obama announced the supposedly independent review panel in August following public outcry over the NSA’s electronic spying programs revealed by whistleblower Edward Snowden.

The president appointed a panel of academics and national security experts — led by James Clapper, the director of national intelligence and a staunch NSA defender — to draft recommended reforms.

The result was a 300-page report containing 46 proposals to rein in, shut down and otherwise curb the federal government’s ability to hack into software, track cell phones and keep tabs on people suspected of no crime.

The report has been criticized by some reformers — like the Electronic Frontier Foundation, which is suing the Obama administration in a separate effort to shut down the surveillance programs — for not going far enough. Among the more high-profile recommendations is a proposal to require private companies like telephone providers to keep telephone metadata, instead of having the government collect it.

Following the report’s release, Obama said he would announce his own collection of reforms in an address scheduled for Friday.

Media reports suggest that the president will shun many of the recommendations made by his hand-picked committee.

The New York Times reported this week that Obama’s speech will call for few changes to the surveillance programs and will not endorse bringing an end to the government’s collection of telephone metadata. The Times said Obama would leave open the door to more reforms in the future.

REAL REFORMS? Media reports indicate Obama will punt on many of the proposed changes to NSA policy recommended by his very own review panel.

White House officials told the Los Angeles Times last week that Obama had adopted “the 9/11 justification” — essentially, that surveillance programs were needed to prevent another major terror attack on U.S. soil — for the NSA programs.

Jay Carney, the White House spokesman, echoed that message during a news conference last week, when he said the government’s “intelligence-gathering activities” were directly related to national security, even though the NSA review panel said the benefits of such surveillance never had been clearly established.

“The president has been clear throughout this review process that we will not harm our national security or our ability to face global threats,” Carney said.

Grayson said it was unacceptable for Obama to water-down the proposed reforms because the president had specifically asked for the advice of the experts on the hand-picked review panel.

“The president asked for the advice of these experts, and he should take it,” Grayson said. “We don’t have to compromise our freedom to remain safe.”

Criticism of the NSA — and the Obama administration’s poor oversight of its activities — has come from within the president’s own party before.

It was U.S. Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Ore., who asked Clapper in March about the NSA’s data collection programs months before their existence was made public by Snowden’s leaks. At the time, Clapper flatly denied the existence of any such programs, a comment that has led many observers to call for him to be tried for perjury.

But if Grayson’s bill doesn’t go anywhere, it would not be much of a surprise. The two-term congressman from Orlando recently was named the least effective lawmaker in Congress by the Brookings Institution.

According to the think tank, Grayson has introduced 44 bills since re-joining Congress in 2012, but not a single one has become law.

Boehm is a reporter for Watchdog.org and can be reached at EBoehm@Watchdog.org. Follow @EricBoehm87 and @WatchdogOrg on Twitter for more.

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Rob Port is the editor of SayAnythingBlog.com, a columnist for the Forum News Service, and host of the Plain Talk Podcast which you can subscribe to by clicking here.

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