Key NSA Defender Wants to End Bulk Data Collection

Dutch Ruppersberger has a plan to overhaul the controversial spying program.

Rep. "Dutch" Ruppersberger interview
National Journal
Brendan Sasso
Add to Briefcase
Brendan Sasso
March 13, 2014, 7:41 a.m.

One of the top sup­port­ers of the Na­tion­al Se­cur­ity Agency is now call­ing for an end to the agency’s con­tro­ver­sial prac­tice of col­lect­ing data on mil­lions of U.S. phone calls.

Un­der the pro­pos­al from Rep. Dutch Rup­pers­ber­ger, the top Demo­crat on the House In­tel­li­gence Com­mit­tee, the phone com­pan­ies, not the NSA, would hold the phone data. NSA ana­lysts could ac­cess the re­cords only if they first ob­tain an or­der from the For­eign In­tel­li­gence Sur­veil­lance Court.

His pro­pos­al would not im­pose any man­date on the phone com­pan­ies to main­tain the data — an idea that would face fierce res­ist­ance from civil-liber­ties groups and the phone com­pan­ies them­selves.

In an in­ter­view with Na­tion­al Journ­al, Rup­pers­ber­ger ar­gued that a new data-re­ten­tion man­date is un­ne­ces­sary be­cause the Fed­er­al Com­mu­nic­a­tions Com­mis­sion already re­quires phone com­pan­ies to main­tain their re­cords for 18 months in case there are dis­putes over billing.

Most NSA searches in­volve phone calls that are less than 18 months old, ac­cord­ing to Rup­pers­ber­ger.

The pro­pos­al is a shift for the Demo­crat­ic law­maker, who is one of the most vo­cal de­fend­ers of the NSA on Cap­it­ol Hill.

“I rep­res­ent NSA,” said Rup­pers­ber­ger, whose dis­trict in­cludes NSA’s headquar­ters in Fort Meade, Md. “NSA and the people who work there do an ex­cel­lent job.”

But he ac­know­ledged that in the wake of the leaks by Ed­ward Snowden, there is now a wide­spread view that the agency is in­vad­ing people’s pri­vacy.

“We’ve got to find a way to get the con­fid­ence of the Amer­ic­an people back so they will re­spect NSA as much as they re­spect the mil­it­ary,” he said.

He ar­gued that his plan would bol­ster pri­vacy pro­tec­tions while main­tain­ing the NSA’s abil­ity to un­cov­er ter­ror­ist plots.

Rup­pers­ber­ger pro­pos­al is in line with Pres­id­ent Obama’s goal of giv­ing up NSA con­trol of the phone data­base while main­tain­ing the pro­gram’s cap­ab­il­ity. The ad­min­is­tra­tion is cur­rently re­view­ing sev­er­al op­tions for over­haul­ing the pro­gram, in­clud­ing hav­ing phone com­pan­ies hold the data and giv­ing the data to a third-party group.

The White House is ex­pec­ted to an­nounce its plan for the pro­gram be­fore March 28.

But Rup­pers­ber­ger warned that no mat­ter what plan the White House comes up with, the pro­gram could ex­pire next year when the For­eign In­tel­li­gence Sur­veil­lance Act is up for re­new­al.

He said he is work­ing with House In­tel­li­gence Com­mit­tee Chair­man Mike Ro­gers on le­gis­la­tion that would re­vamp and ex­tend the law.

“I’m not sure wheth­er we could get the votes to pass an­oth­er FISA bill,” Rup­pers­ber­ger said. “Mike and I real­ize we have to make a change.”

But he ac­know­ledged that the House In­tel­li­gence chair­man is not on board yet with his pro­pos­al to lim­it the NSA phone sweeps.

In an emailed state­ment, Ro­gers said he con­tin­ues to work with Rup­pers­ber­ger and oth­er law­makers “to craft a pro­pos­al that will ad­dress the con­cerns around bulk data stor­age, pro­tect civil liber­ties, in­crease trans­par­ency and con­fid­ence in the gov­ern­ment’s in­tel­li­gence-col­lec­tion activ­it­ies, and main­tain a tar­geted cap­ab­il­ity for coun­terter­ror­ism op­er­a­tions.”

Caitlin Hay­den, a White House spokes­per­son, said the pres­id­ent hasn’t de­cided yet on his plan for the pro­gram. 

Rup­pers­ber­ger’s pro­pos­al would not strengthen the stand­ard NSA ana­lysts need to meet be­fore re­view­ing phone re­cords. Cur­rently, the NSA col­lects mil­lions of re­cords, but only ac­cesses the data­base if there is a “reas­on­able, ar­tic­ul­able sus­pi­cion” that a phone num­ber is con­nec­ted to ter­ror­ism.

Un­der the USA Free­dom Act, a tough­er bill from GOP Rep. Jim Sensen­bren­ner and Demo­crat­ic Sen. Patrick Leahy, the NSA would need to show that a re­cord is rel­ev­ant to a ter­ror­ism in­vest­ig­a­tion and per­tains to an agent of a “for­eign power.”

But Rup­pers­ber­ger ar­gued that the USA Free­dom Act’s stand­ard is too re­strict­ive.

“In my opin­ion that would put our coun­try at risk,” he said. The Mary­land Demo­crat ar­gued that in­tel­li­gence agents are try­ing to thwart ter­ror­ist at­tacks and they shouldn’t be held to the same stand­ard as po­lice or pro­sec­utors try­ing to ob­tain evid­ence for a tri­al after the crime has already been com­mit­ted.

In a state­ment, Sensen­bren­ner ap­plauded Rup­pers­ber­ger for agree­ing that bulk data col­lec­tion should end and urged him to sign on to the USA Free­dom Act. 

“It strikes the prop­er bal­ance between se­cur­ity and pri­vacy, and I am con­fid­ent it has the votes to pass,” Sensen­bren­ner said. 

What We're Following See More »
23 MILLION FEWER INSURED IN 2026
Congressional Budget Office Scores House Trumpcare Bill
39 minutes ago
BREAKING

The nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office has released its score of the House-passed American Health Care Act, which would replace Obamacare. According to the CBO, the bill would reduce the deficit by $119 billion by 2026, while leaving 14 million more Americans uninsured in 2018 than under current law, a number swelling to 23 million by 2026. Further, insurance premiums would balloon 20 percent in 2018 and five percent in 2019 before the waiver provision in the legislation would kick in. The provision allows states to apply for waivers and permit insurers to offer skimpier plans, which would likely entice younger and healthier individuals to buy health insurance while potentially pricing older and less healthy Americans out of insurance plans. House Republicans approved this bill in late April without waiting for the CBO score.

Source:
GOP DISCORD
Graham Rejects Trump’s Budget In Hearing
39 minutes ago
THE DETAILS

Republican Sen. Lindsey Graham said Wednesday during a Senate Appropriations subcommittee hearing that President Donald Trump's budget is little more than recycling bin material. "The budget proposed by the president doesn't have a snowball's chance in hell of passing," Graham said. Graham had previously opposed the budget over its nearly 30 percent cut to the budget of the State Department. The budget slashes spending on domestic priorities while increasing military spending.

Source:
PREFERS “CLEAN” BILL
Mnuchin Looks To Avoid Debt Ceiling Fight
7 hours ago
THE DETAILS
“THAT’S THE GOAL”
McConnell Not Sure How To Get 50 Votes For Health Care
8 hours ago
THE LATEST

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said Wednesday that he doesn't yet know the formula towards gaining passage of an Obamacare replacement in the Senate. "I don't know how we get to 50 (votes) at the moment. But that's the goal," McConnell said. The House passed an Obamacare replacement bill which has been widely seen as dead on arrival in the Senate, and McConnell has put together a working group of Republican Senators working towards creating health care legislation which could gain the support of at least 50 Senators.

Source:
BUT WHITE HOUSE MAY USE AGAINST HIM ANYWAY
Ethics Cops Clear Mueller to Work on Trump Case
1 days ago
THE LATEST

"Former FBI Director Robert Mueller has been cleared by U.S. Department of Justice ethics experts to oversee an investigation into possible collusion between then-candidate Donald Trump's 2016 election campaign and Russia." Some had speculated that the White House would use "an ethics rule limiting government attorneys from investigating people their former law firm represented" to trip up Mueller's appointment. Jared Kushner is a client of Mueller's firm, WilmerHale. "Although Mueller has now been cleared by the Justice Department, the White House may still use his former law firm's connection to Manafort and Kushner to undermine the findings of his investigation, according to two sources close to the White House."

Source:
×
×

Welcome to National Journal!

You are currently accessing National Journal from IP access. Please login to access this feature. If you have any questions, please contact your Dedicated Advisor.

Login