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Congressional NSA critics: Obama didn't go far enough

  • McClatchy Washington Bureau
  • Published Friday, Jan. 17, 2014, at 4:53 p.m.
  • Updated Wednesday, Jan. 22, 2014, at 6:19 p.m.

WASHINGTON -- Congressional critics of the National Security Agency’s spying program say the president’s proposed reforms don’t go far enough and that Congress needs to act to rein in the agency.

Connecticut Democratic Sen. Richard Blumenthal said Obama’s reform plan is “only a first step and it leaves a lot of work to be done.”

Blumenthal said the public needs more protections from the federal program, which collects millions of Americans’ phone records. He said he would continue to push his legislation calling for an independent privacy advocate to argue on behalf of privacy rights in the secret surveillance court that oversees the program.

Democrats, members of Obama's own party, led the criticism. But Republicans like Alaska Sen. Lisa Murkowski also weighed in, saying the president isn't going far enough and Congress needs to act. 

Democratic senators Ron Wyden, Mark Udall and Martin  Heinrich, members of the Senate intelligence committee, agreed that additional reforms are needed. They said Obama’s proposals are a major step but they want more changes such as ending warrantless “back door searches” into computer systems.

They said they wanted “to ensure that the government does not read Americans’ emails or other communications without a warrant.

Alaska Democratic Sen. Mark Begich said he was “uneasy and concerned” that the president didn’t say outright that bulk collection of Americans’  private communications records would end. Kentucky Republican Sen. Rand Paul said the presidents’ reforms leave the same “unconstitutional program with a new configuration.”

Senate leaders, though, praised the steps that Obama proposed and did not speak of making additional reforms to the program. So it's questionable whether Congress would act.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, a Nevada, Democrat, said Congress needs to maintain oversight of the surveillance program but “we must be sure to provide our intelligence professionals with the tools they need to protect our country and defeat those who would do us harm.”

Republican House Speaker John Boehner was skeptical of changes to the surveillance program, saying it’s helped keep America safe and that even Obama's plan may go too far.

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