Privacy Groups Release Congressional Scorecard on NSA Spying

How do your lawmakers rank on government surveillance?

National Journal
Dustin Volz
June 27, 2014, 6:16 a.m.

Di­anne Fein­stein gets an “F.” So does John Boehner.

Patrick Leahy, Ron Wyden, and Justin Amash each earned an “A.”

At least that’s ac­cord­ing to a new con­gres­sion­al score­card from pri­vacy and civil-liber­ties groups meas­ur­ing how law­makers stand on gov­ern­ment spy­ing, an is­sue that con­tin­ues to slowly gain trac­tion more than a year after Ed­ward Snowden’s leaks ex­posed clas­si­fied bulk-data sur­veil­lance pro­grams at the Na­tion­al Se­cur­ity Agency.

The score­card, de­veloped by red­dit, the Sun­light Found­a­tion, De­mand Pro­gress and oth­ers, grades law­makers from “A” to “F,” de­pend­ing on their votes or spon­sor­ship of cer­tain pieces of re­cent sur­veil­lance le­gis­la­tion. Its re­lease co­in­cides with the liftoff of a Green­peace blimp this morn­ing that hovered above the NSA’s data cen­ter in Utah and dis­played the mes­sage “Il­leg­al spy­ing be­low.”

The let­ter grades are meant to add clar­ity to a muddled re­form pro­cess con­cern­ing the prop­er scope of gov­ern­ment sur­veil­lance of phone and In­ter­net data, said Rainey Re­it­man, act­iv­ist dir­ect­or with the Elec­tron­ic Fron­ti­er Found­a­tion, one of the or­gan­iz­ing groups.

“Con­gress has been strug­gling with what they’re go­ing to do about sur­veil­lance re­form, and for the gen­er­al pub­lic, this has been a very con­fus­ing de­bate,” Re­it­man said. “Be­cause, of­ten there are go­ing to be bills that im­ply they are go­ing to help with sur­veil­lance is­sues when, in fact, they are fake re­forms that would merely en­trench the spy­ing.”

In the House, points were awar­ded for sup­port of the Sur­veil­lance State Re­peal Act, in­tro­duced last year by Rep. Rush Holt (who gets an “A”), and the ori­gin­al USA Free­dom Act, which was au­thored by Rep. Jim Sensen­bren­ner (also an “A”) and sought to end the NSA’s bulk col­lec­tion of U.S. phone metadata.

But points were sub­trac­ted if a House mem­ber voted for the “watered-down” ver­sion of the Free­dom Act, which passed the cham­ber 303-121 in May. Power­ful tech com­pan­ies such as Google and Face­book and pri­vacy ad­voc­ates dropped their sup­port of that bill as el­ev­enth-hour ne­go­ti­ations among House lead­er­ship, in­tel­li­gence of­fi­cials, and the White House altered the lan­guage of key sec­tions of the bill.

In the Sen­ate, points were awar­ded for spon­sor­ship of the ori­gin­al USA Free­dom Act, in­tro­duced by Sen. Patrick Leahy, and points were de­duc­ted for co­spon­sor­ship of Sen. Di­anne Fein­stein’s FISA Im­prove­ments Act, which civil-liber­ties groups have routinely lam­basted as co­di­fy­ing the cur­rent powers of the NSA and oth­er in­tel­li­gence agen­cies. Even Fein­stein has ac­know­ledged that her bill likely does not have a path for­ward, however.

Sev­er­al high-pro­file sen­at­ors re­main un­ranked in the score­card for not be­ing “sig­ni­fic­antly in­volved” in the de­bate on NSA spy­ing. Sen­ate Ma­jor­ity Lead­er Harry Re­id, Sen­ate Minor­ity Lead­er Mitch Mc­Con­nell, and Re­pub­lic­an Sens. Rand Paul, Ted Cruz, and Marco Ru­bio—a trio of po­ten­tial GOP pres­id­en­tial can­did­ates in 2016—are all lis­ted with a ques­tion mark.

Paul’s des­ig­na­tion is es­pe­cially not­able, as he has typ­ic­ally been an out­spoken crit­ic of do­mest­ic gov­ern­ment sur­veil­lance, and has signaled that an ag­gress­ive anti-NSA stance could be a cent­ral plank of his pos­sible 2016 plat­form. But or­gan­izers re­it­er­ated that the score­card was meant to only re­flect sup­port or op­pos­i­tion to key le­gis­la­tion.

“We were temp­ted to say, if you’re not do­ing any­thing good, you should get an ‘F,’ ” Re­it­man said. “But we thought, for right now, we should give these people ques­tion marks” un­til the Sen­ate votes on an NSA bill.

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