House Panels Sell Alternate Realities on NSA Reform

Ahead of dueling votes, Intelligence Committee leaders insist a deal everyone can agree on is taking shape. The Judiciary Committee is skeptical.

Rep. Jim Sensenbrenner, R-Wis., will introduce the USA Freedom Act, designed to curb NSA surveillance, next week.
National Journal
Dustin Volz
May 7, 2014, 7:08 a.m.

Two House com­mit­tees will vote this week on their own ver­sions of le­gis­la­tion that cur­tails the gov­ern­ment’s sur­veil­lance powers, mark­ing the first ser­i­ous move­ment on spy re­form from Con­gress in months.

But du­el­ing nar­rat­ives have also emerged from the House Ju­di­ciary and In­tel­li­gence com­mit­tees along­side the com­pet­ing bills. These un­der­score the di­vide between law­makers more sup­port­ive of broad sur­veil­lance re­form and those more con­cerned that na­tion­al se­cur­ity could be un­der­mined.

Ac­cord­ing to the In­tel­li­gence pan­el, the two bills are quickly unit­ing on a happy middle ground, one that will make Speak­er John Boehner’s choice as to which bill to bring to the floor a re­l­at­ively easy one. The Ju­di­ciary pan­el’s newly amended USA Free­dom Act has swung sharply in a dir­ec­tion “where we and the White House are on this,” an In­tel­li­gence staffer said.

“I really do feel we’re very close to a deal that every­body will feel com­fort­able with,” In­tel­li­gence Chair­man Mike Ro­gers said late Tues­day. “The bills have moved dra­mat­ic­ally.”

But while In­tel­li­gence law­makers and staffers are in­sist­ing a grand con­sensus may be emer­ging, aides to Ju­di­ciary mem­bers struck a dif­fer­ent chord. Mul­tiple Ju­di­ciary staffers ac­cused the rival pan­el of try­ing to spin a co­pacet­ic nar­rat­ive to dis­tract from the real­ity that the two bills are still markedly dif­fer­ent.

“If they were so close, why would there be com­pet­ing bills?” an aide to a Ju­di­ciary Demo­crat asked.

An aide to a Ju­di­ciary Re­pub­lic­an ad­ded: “We can say with a straight face that our bill ends bulk col­lec­tion. House In­tel can­not.”

Com­plic­at­ing mat­ters fur­ther, the In­tel­li­gence pan­el has sched­uled a vote on the Free­dom Act on Thursday after it votes on its own bill, a day after Ju­di­ciary’s vote.

To be sure, the bills offered by both pan­els do share some com­mon ground, and the latest ver­sion of the Free­dom Act does align it more closely with what the In­tel­li­gence pan­el and Pres­id­ent Obama want. (The pro­posed Free­dom Act changes have led some in the pri­vacy com­munity to newly christen it the “Free­dumb Act.”)

Both meas­ures would move the stor­age of phone metadata — the num­bers and call dur­a­tions but not the con­tents of a call — out of the gov­ern­ment and in­to the hands of the phone com­pan­ies. Both would also gen­er­ally cre­ate more trans­par­ency and ac­count­ab­il­ity checks on the For­eign In­tel­li­gence Sur­veil­lance Court, which gives the Na­tion­al Se­cur­ity Agency its au­thor­ity to con­duct data stor­age.

But sev­er­al key dif­fer­ences re­main. For one, the In­tel­li­gence Com­mit­tee’s FISA Trans­par­ency and Mod­ern­iz­a­tion Act would al­low the NSA to seize phone re­cords without pri­or ap­prov­al from the FISA Court — something that even Obama’s pro­posed re­forms do not seek. The Free­dom Act would re­quire court ap­prov­al be­fore each search of phone re­cords.

And the Free­dom Act more strictly defines who can be tar­geted un­der “bulk col­lec­tion,” though am­bi­gu­ity in the lan­guage has pri­vacy ad­voc­ates won­der­ing how cer­tain defin­i­tions could be in­ter­preted. It also would only al­low data col­lec­tion for coun­terter­ror­ism pur­poses, while the In­tel­li­gence bill would ex­pand that cur­rent stand­ard to in­clude oth­er kinds of na­tion­al se­cur­ity threats, such as pro­lif­er­a­tion of weapons of mass de­struc­tion.

What’s more, amend­ments likely to be offered dur­ing the Free­dom Act’s Wed­nes­day markup could widen the gap between the two bills even more. One plan would al­low tech com­pan­ies to dis­close more in­form­a­tion about the data re­quests they re­ceive from the gov­ern­ment. Demo­crat­ic Reps. Su­z­an Del­Bene and Zoe Lof­gren, as well as Wis­con­sin Re­pub­lic­an and Free­dom Act au­thor Jim Sensen­bren­ner, are in­ter­ested in adding a trans­par­ency pro­vi­sion that was in the ori­gin­al bill’s lan­guage.

Over­all, pri­vacy and civil-liber­ties groups still fa­vor the Free­dom Act, even in its cur­rent state.

“The de­tails still need to be hammered out, but the bill is cer­tainly bet­ter than the one that the House In­tel­li­gence Com­mit­tee will be con­sid­er­ing this week, which is a non­starter,” Laura Murphy, dir­ect­or of the Amer­ic­an Civil Liber­ties Uni­on’s le­gis­lat­ive of­fice in Wash­ing­ton, said in a state­ment. “The Amer­ic­an people must in­sist that Con­gress vote on real re­form, not win­dow dress­ing.”

The un­usu­al situ­ation un­fold­ing this week — two com­mit­tees vot­ing on com­pet­ing bills just a day apart — stems from a ter­rit­ori­al feud that began in March, when House lead­er­ship gave Ro­gers’s com­mit­tee primary jur­is­dic­tion over his bill in­stead of the Ju­di­ciary pan­el, which said it nor­mally calls the shots on mat­ters deal­ing with the in­tel­li­gence com­munity’s leg­al au­thor­ity. One Ju­di­ciary staffer said at the time that its mem­bers were “out­raged.”

The House In­tel­li­gence lead­ers may want to un­der­sell le­gis­lat­ive dif­fer­ences in the bills be­cause of their repu­ta­tion as long-stand­ing de­fend­ers of the NSA. Chair­man Ro­gers said he has been in talks with Ju­di­ciary Chair­man Bob Good­latte, Sensen­bren­ner, and the White House about mov­ing for­ward with one bill that “rep­res­ents every­one’s con­cerns.”

“Our bill as in­tro­duced already strengthens pri­vacy pro­tec­tions and im­proves trans­par­ency while main­tain­ing an im­port­ant cap­ab­il­ity needed to keep our coun­try, and our al­lies, safe,” Rep. Dutch Rup­pers­ber­ger, the In­tel­li­gence pan­el’s top Demo­crat, said in a state­ment. “After con­tinu­ing our close con­sulta­tions with the ad­min­is­tra­tion, pri­vacy groups, in­dustry lead­ers, and our col­leagues in the House and Sen­ate, I am con­fid­ent that our mark-up will ad­vance these goals even fur­ther.”

House lead­er­ship, for the time be­ing, is stay­ing mum on the byz­antine battle. “At this point, we’re just mon­it­or­ing the com­mit­tee pro­cess,” a spokes­man for Boehner said.

The Ju­di­ciary’s Free­dom Act cur­rently boasts 143 co­spon­sors and was in­tro­duced in Oc­to­ber. The FISA Trans­par­ency and Mod­ern­iz­a­tion Act was in­tro­duced by Ro­gers and Rup­pers­ber­ger in March and has 13 co­spon­sors.

Brendan Sasso contributed to this article.
What We're Following See More »
PROCEDURES NOT FOLLOWED
Trump Not on Ballot in Minnesota
3 days ago
THE LATEST
MOB RULE?
Trump on Immigration: ‘I Don’t Know, You Tell Me’
3 days ago
THE LATEST

Perhaps Donald Trump can take a plebiscite to solve this whole messy immigration thing. At a Fox News town hall with Sean Hannity last night, Trump essentially admitted he's "stumped," turning to the audience and asking: “Can we go through a process or do you think they have to get out? Tell me, I mean, I don’t know, you tell me.”

Source:
BIG CHANGE FROM WHEN HE SELF-FINANCED
Trump Enriching His Businesses with Donor Money
4 days ago
WHY WE CARE

Donald Trump "nearly quintupled the monthly rent his presidential campaign pays for its headquarters at Trump Tower to $169,758 in July, when he was raising funds from donors, compared with March, when he was self-funding his campaign." A campaign spokesman "said the increased office space was needed to accommodate an anticipated increase in employees," but the campaign's paid staff has actually dipped by about 25 since March. The campaign has also paid his golf courses and restaurants about $260,000 since mid-May.

Source:
QUESTIONS OVER IMMIGRATION POLICY
Trump Cancels Rallies
5 days ago
THE LATEST

Donald Trump probably isn't taking seriously John Oliver's suggestion that he quit the race. But he has canceled or rescheduled rallies amid questions over his stance on immigration. Trump rescheduled a speech on the topic that he was set to give later this week. Plus, he's also nixed planned rallies in Oregon and Las Vegas this month.

Source:
‘STRATEGY AND MESSAGING’
Sean Hannity Is Also Advising Trump
6 days ago
THE LATEST

Donald Trump's Fox News brain trust keeps growing. After it was revealed that former Fox chief Roger Ailes is informally advising Trump on debate preparation, host Sean Hannity admitted over the weekend that he's also advising Trump on "strategy and messaging." He told the New York Times: “I’m not hiding the fact that I want Donald Trump to be the next president of the United States. I never claimed to be a journalist.”

Source:
×