It is time to move on.
The National Security Agency’s latest plan for ending data collection is a travesty, a step backward for civil liberties and a betrayal of the public’s trust. A decade ago, the U.S. government’s bulk telephony metadata gathering program was described as the most important reform ever proposed by a president and the intelligence community . It would, in fact, remain unchanged.
But the reform plan proposed by the Obama administration yesterday was an awful, even dangerous mistake. Not only did it put us back in total war with al Qaeda and other terrorists, it also put citizens at risk. It would enable American intelligence agencies to build up enormous databases, including the phone records of tens of millions of innocent people in the United States and thousands of allies. And it would make it substantially easier for the government to spy on American citizens without a warrant.
The program was a disaster when it began. It led to the capture of several terrorists, the discovery that al Qaeda’s Yemen affiliate al-Nusrah was moving into Syria , and the emergence of a growing threat. It also provided an opportunity to spy on millions of innocent Americans.
The NSA’s surveillance of phone records is just the latest example of the government’s growing authority to collect and store information on virtually all of our personal activity. Last year, the National Security Agency collected records of millions of Americans who were in touch with our relatives overseas .
For all these reasons, the NSA reform plan puts a dragnet on our privacy and our liberties. But we now need to look towards the future to ensure that the surveillance state does not grow into another Orwellian nightmare — as President Obama called it during the debate about his budget — where the government becomes involved in our most intimate affairs.
The president will need to reverse course and take important steps to make sure the government is not able to spy on Americans under its jurisdiction. And Congress will need to ensure that the intelligence community conducts the proper oversight required of it by statute.
First, Congress must insist on robust congressional oversight of the government’s collection of data on Americans. Many have asked why such oversight should be different than what happens with any other data collection. I can’t think of any additional oversight mechanism that would be more comprehensive and necessary than congressional congressional oversight.
As part of such oversight, Congress should require the government to report to Congress on its efforts to collect data on Americans, why it collects that data and why it collects it at a pace of
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