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NSA: Electronic Frontier Foundation Wants New Church Committee

On the heels of the revelations regarding the NSA, the Electronic Frontier Foundation — the leading digital rights organization in the U.S. — is demanding a “new Church Committee.” This 1975 commission was chaired by Sen. Frank Church (D-ID), and investigated illegal spying on American citizens by the CIA, the NSA, and other government entities.

Church said at the time:

[The National Security Agency’s] capability at any time could be turned around on the American people, and no American would have any privacy left, such is the capability to monitor everything: telephone conversations, telegrams, it doesn’t matter. There would be no place to hide.

In a press release, the EFF said:

Following on the heels of the Guardian reporting that the NSA is collecting all U.S call data records of Verizon customers, the Guardian and Washington Post yesterday reported that nine of the biggest Internet companies, including Facebook, Google, Yahoo, and Microsoft, are also working with the government in a vast spying program, where a massive amount of online data flows to the NSA, all in secret. The revelations not only confirmed what EFF has long alleged, they went even further and honestly, we’re still reeling. EFF will, of course, be continuing its efforts to get this egregious situation addressed by the courts.

This situation has been in place for years, according to Senate Intelligence Committee Chair Dianne Feinstein:

We have debated this several times — more than a dozen times — in the intelligence committee. It has been the subject of judiciary committee hearings. It has been the subject of extended floor debate and votes. There is nothing new in this program. The fact of the matter is, that this was a routine three-month approval under seal that was leaked.

 Republican Saxby Chambliss, the ranking member on the Intelligence Committee, backed the program:

This is nothing particularly new. Every member of the United States Senate has been advised of this, and to my knowledge we have not had any citizen who has registered a complaint relative to the gathering of this information.

Chambliss’ comment regarding citizen complaints is odd, as the FISA court orders were sealed and the entire program was highly classified. Also, as EFF points out, the original FISA restrictions were all but eliminated in 2008:

In 2008, Congress gutted the original balance of FISA with the FISA Amendments Act, which allowed the government to get court orders with less than probable cause that would target groups of people — instead of individuals, like the Constitution requires. The law also allowed the NSA to collect information on innocent Americans when they are talking to people outside the U.S. who are targeted by the government.

But it gets worse. EFF and others had long alleged that, despite the rhetoric surrounding the Patriot Act and the FISA Amendments Act, the government was still vacuuming up the records of the purely domestic communications of millions of Americans. And yesterday, of course, with the Verizon order, we got solid proof. And it appears that the reach of this vacuum goes much further, into the records of our Internet service providers as well.

So here’s your wake up call Congress, and an opportunity to be a hero. We need a Church Committee for a new era. It could be headed by Ron Wyden and Mark Udall, the two senators who have been trying to warn the American people about the government dangerous interpretation of the Patriot Act for years. Udall said today, he “did everything short of leaking classified information” to stop it.

Also read: Rand Paul May Challenge NSA Surveillance in the Supreme Court