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.

What We're Following See More »
STATE HAS UNTIL MONDAY TO RESPOND
DOJ: North Carolina’s CB2 Violates Civil Rights Act
35 minutes ago
THE LATEST

Department of Justice officials told North Carolina Gov. Pat McCrory that "the law violates the U.S. Civil Rights Act and Title IX—a finding that could jeopardize billions in federal education funding. The department gave state officials until Monday to respond 'by confirming that the State will not comply with or implement HB2.'"

Source:
UTAH REPUBLICAN
Former Sen. Bob Bennett Dies at 82
8 hours ago
THE DETAILS

Former Utah Republican Sen. Bob Bennett died of pancreatic cancer on Wednesday after a long battle with pancreatic cancer. Bennett was defeated in a primary in 2010 by Tea Party–backed Mike Lee.

Source:
GOOGLE SEARCHES SPIKE
Libertarians Getting a Second Look?
14 hours ago
WHY WE CARE
VEEPSTAKES
Trump Floats Gingrich, Kasich as Running Mates
15 hours ago
THE LATEST

Newt Gringrich is actively positioning himself as a possible VP nominee for Donald Trump, according to National Review. After a New York Times piece mentioned him as a possible running mate, he said, "It is an honor to be mentioned. We need a new Contract with America to outline a 100-day plan to take back Washington from the lobbyists, bureaucrats, unions, and leftists. After helping in 1980 with Reagan and 1995 as speaker I know we have to move boldly and decisively before the election results wear off and the establishment starts fighting us. That is my focus." Meanwhile, Trump told CNN he'd be "interested in vetting" John Kasich as well.

NO MORE CUTS
House Dems Push on Puerto Rico, Citing Zika
16 hours ago
THE LATEST

"House Democrats are stepping up pressure on Republicans to advance legislation addressing Puerto Rico’s worsening debt crisis by issuing a report arguing that austerity cuts can’t be sustained and have made the island more vulnerable to the mosquito-borne Zika virus." Democrats on the House Natural Resources Committee released a report yesterday that argued "further sharp reductions in government spending can’t be a part of a legislative solution"—especially with a rainy season boosting the mosquito population and stressing an island health system already struggling to deal with the Zika virus.

Source:
×