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US Lawmakers Seek Surveillance Reform

  • Kent Klein

U.S. senators in both parties are proposing changes in the way the National Security Agency collects information as it hunts for terrorists and other threats. Some lawmakers want to limit or end the bulk collection of telephone and email records.

The recent siege at a shopping mall in Nairobi, Kenya, is reason for the National Security Agency to continue its information-gathering activities, according to the NSA's director.

At a cybersecurity seminar in Washington, General Keith Alexander said his agency needs the tools to prevent such attacks on the United States.

"If you take those away, think about the last week, and what will happen in the future. My concern is, if you think it is bad now, we get several things that happened in Nairobi in this country, and we have a whole different ball game. And we will have failed," said Alexander.

Since former NSA contractor Edward Snowden revealed this year that the NSA has been gathering phone and email records of Americans as well as people overseas, there have been objections at home and abroad.

Members of the Senate Select Intelligence Committee are working on legislation that would either limit the practice or eliminate it.

Democratic Senator Ron Wyden wants to end the massive collection of phone and email records.

"Dozens of misleading public statements made by top intelligence officials have now damaged the credibility of the leadership in the intelligence community at home and abroad. Foreign governments and their citizens are finding their trust in the government to be compromised. This is not a small hiccup," said Wyden.

Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff canceled a state visit to the White House over the issue. She criticized the U.S. in a speech before the United Nations General Assembly.

"The safety of a citizen of one country should not be guaranteed by the violation of human and civil rights which are fundamental to citizens of another country," said Rousseff.

But General Alexander says many Americans who oppose the NSA's collection of phone and email records are being misled by inaccurate reports in the media.

At the cybersecurity seminar, he said the NSA is not collecting content from the phone calls or emails it monitors.

He also said U.S. allies appreciate the data gathering because it also protects their countries from terror attacks.

"Many people have asked me, how has this impacted your relationship with allies? Here is what I get: 'Keep working with us," he said. "The intelligence you get us to defend our country is what we really need.'"

The Senate committee's chairman, Democratic Senator Dianne Feinstein, says the NSA should continue gathering phone and email records. She favors a less restrictive bill that would bar the NSA from collecting the content of phone calls and email messages.