Boehner Supports End to NSA Mass Surveillance

The House speaker backs moderate legislation from the Intelligence Committee.

Speaker of the House John Boehner.
National Journal
Brendan Sasso
March 26, 2014, 8:38 a.m.

House Speak­er John Boehner in­dic­ated Wed­nes­day that he plans to al­low a vote on le­gis­la­tion that would end the Na­tion­al Se­cur­ity Agency’s con­tro­ver­sial prac­tice of col­lect­ing re­cords on mil­lions of U.S. phone calls.

“The bill rep­res­ents the start of a bi­par­tis­an con­ver­sa­tion about how we main­tain our cap­ab­il­it­ies to thwart at­tacks, while ad­dress­ing pri­vacy and civil-liber­ties con­cerns that many Amer­ic­ans have,” Boehner said at a press con­fer­ence. “And so I ex­pect that part of this ef­fort will in­clude the end of the gov­ern­ment hold­ing on to bulk data. And, ul­ti­mately, I’m hope­ful that bi­par­tis­an co­oper­a­tion will lead to res­ults that all sides can sup­port—and, most im­port­antly, keep Amer­ica safe.”

Boehner is sup­port­ing a bill in­tro­duced Wed­nes­day by Reps. Mike Ro­gers, the chair­man of the House In­tel­li­gence Com­mit­tee, and Dutch Rup­pers­ber­ger, the pan­el’s top Demo­crat. The law­makers are fierce de­fend­ers of the NSA, and their bill now rep­res­ents the more mod­er­ate le­gis­lat­ive ap­proach for re­form­ing the NSA.

Un­der their le­gis­la­tion, the vast data­base of phone re­cords would stay in the hands of the phone com­pan­ies. The NSA could force the phone com­pan­ies to turn over par­tic­u­lar re­cords, and the For­eign In­tel­li­gence Sur­veil­lance Court would re­view the NSA or­ders after the fact.

The le­gis­la­tion is ex­pec­ted to be sim­il­ar to a pro­pos­al that Pres­id­ent Obama will out­line later this week. 

Sen­ate Ju­di­ciary Com­mit­tee Chair­man Patrick Leahy and Rep. Jim Sensen­bren­ner are still push­ing a more ag­gress­ive bill to rein in the NSA’s power. Their bill, the USA Free­dom Act, would raise the stand­ard that the NSA would need to meet to ac­cess the phone data and curb oth­er pro­grams, such as In­ter­net sur­veil­lance of people in oth­er coun­tries.

Boehner ap­peared to be skep­tic­al of any pro­pos­als that would be more ag­gress­ive in ex­pand­ing pri­vacy rights than the Ro­gers-Rup­pers­ber­ger le­gis­la­tion.

“As you know, I’ve long said these pro­grams ex­ist to save Amer­ic­an lives—and they have. And while there are some val­id pri­vacy con­cerns, it would be ir­re­spons­ible to end these pro­grams be­fore we have a cred­ible al­tern­at­ive,” Boehner said.

The NSA main­tains that the bulk phone data col­lec­tion is au­thor­ized un­der Sec­tion 215 of the Pat­ri­ot Act. If Con­gress doesn’t act be­fore June 1, 2015, that pro­vi­sion will ex­pire, and the pro­gram will have to end en­tirely.