Roll Call: Latest News on Capitol Hill, Congress, Politics and Elections
November 22, 2014

Durbin Inserts NSA Transparency Language Into Spending Bill

Sen. Richard J. Durbin, D-Ill., is using his new perch as chairman of the Defense Appropriations Subcommittee to increase transparency of the National Security Agency’s controversial surveillance programs, including the NSA’s bulk collection of Americans’ telephone records.

Durbin’s amendment to this year’s Defense spending bill would require the NSA to report on its bulk collection activities within 90 days, although it would not shut them down as some have proposed in the wake of the Edward Snowden leaks.

“I have tried to reform the PATRIOT Act for years, introducing legislation and offering amendments to ensure that secret demands for the sensitive personal information of innocent Americans are permitted only when there is some connection to a suspected terrorist or spy. I believe the government can obtain the information it needs to combat terrorism in a far more targeted manner, rather than casting a dragnet for information about millions of innocent Americans,” Durbin said in a statement. “In the end, Congress permitted this type of intrusion because too few demanded a balance between security and our constitutionally protected freedoms. I hope this provision will help reopen the debate.”

Durbin took the gavel of the powerful panel this Congress, giving him a chance to push human rights and judicial issues that he has pursued in his career backed by the power of the purse.

According to a press release issued by his office Friday, Durbin’s amendment to this year’s appropriations bill on the National Security Agency would:

· Report on the number of phone records of U.S. persons that it has acquired under the bulk collection program and the number of such records that have been reviewed by NSA personnel;

· Report on all NSA bulk collection activities, including when such activities began, the cost of such activities, what types of records have been collected in the past, what types of records are currently being collected, and any plans for future bulk collection;

· List terrorist activities that were disrupted with the aid of information obtained through NSA’s telephone metadata program and whether this information could have been promptly obtained by other means.

The NSA must provide these reports to Congress within 90 days after the bill is signed into law and the reports must be unclassified to the greatest extent possible.

Congress is set to finalize some sort of appropriations legislation in the fall — unless, of course, lawmakers shut down the government out of gridlock.

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