Senate intel committee takes up NSA reform amid privacy protests

By Josh Peterson | Watchdog.org

Competing visions over the future of the National Security Agency will be heard by a top Senate committee Thursday amid coordinated anti-surveillance protests expected to play out online.

LEAVE ME ALONE: Concerns about domestic surveillance programs resulted in continued debate over the fate the National Security Agency.

Senior officials from the intelligence community, privacy advocates and tech company executives are scheduled to appear before the Senate Intelligence Committee, led by one of the NSA’s staunchest supporters, Chairman Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif.

The Senate will examine the role of the NSA in light of a House reform bill passed in May that both agency critics and supporters found disappointing for not doing enough to limit the agency’s electronic surveillance abilities.

What kind of reform the Senate will agree to before November’s midterm elections remains to be seen. The battles over the capabilities of intelligence agencies and electronic privacy are two facets of a larger and more complex debate over the role of the federal government in the smartphone age.

As The Hill reported Wednesday, a possible jurisdictional fight awaits Feinstein’s committee and the Senate Judiciary Committee, where privacy advocates hope to find a more sympathetic ear in Chairman Patrick Leahy, D-Vt.

NSA Director Admiral Michael Rogers, the agency’s new spymaster, held court Tuesday at a cybersecurity event in Washington, D.C., hoping to build public trust in the organization.

Addressing allegations in a recent New York Times report the agency was collecting facial images online, Rogers said that while he disagreed with former NSA contractor Edward Snowden’s decision to leak nearly 2 million classified agency files, from which the report based its findings, he didn’t think Snowden was a foreign spy.

A coalition of privacy activists is encouraging Web and mobile developers to promote the use of privacy tools in a Thursday event called Reset the Net.

That day is also the one-year anniversary of the first leak The Guardian published from Snowden’s cache.

“We have the technology, and adopting encryption is the first effective step that everyone can take to end mass surveillance,” said Snowden in a statement published on the event website. “That’s why I am excited for Reset the Net — it will mark the moment when we turn political expression into practical action, and protect ourselves on a large scale.”

Contact Josh Peterson at jpeterson@watchdog.org. Follow Josh on Twitter at @jdpeterson

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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